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Chicago Public Library Receives 2014 National Medal for Museum & Library Service

First Lady Michelle Obama presents community member Chris Force and Chicago Public Library Commissioner Brian Bannon with 2014 National Medal for Museum & Library Service.
First Lady Michelle Obama presents community member Chris Force and Chicago Public Library Commissioner Brian Bannon with 2014 National Medal for Museum & Library Service.
U.S. Institute for Museum and Library Services

The Chicago Public Library was one of ten recipients of the 2014 National Medals for Museum and Library Service at a White House ceremony yesterday, Thursday, May 8, 2014. The other nine recipients this year are the Brooklyn Botanical Garden in Brooklyn, New York City, New York; The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis in Indianapolis, Indiana; the Las Vegas Clark County Library District in Las Vegas, Nevada; the Mid-Continent Public Library in Independence, Missouri; the Mystic Aquarium in mystic, Connecticut; the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences in Raleigh, North Carolina; the Octavia Fellin Public Library in Gallup, New Mexico; the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History in Norman, Oklahoma; and the Yiddish Book Center in Amherst in Massachusetts.

“The Chicago Public Library continues to serve students and communities across the city by offering cutting-edge technologies alongside a phenomenal range of physical and digital resources,” stated Mayor Emanuel in a C.P.L. press release. “After a recent study named Chicago home of the best public library system in country, this award is yet another way to recognize what all Chicagoans know—that our libraries are no longer just a place for students to read about the past—we are transforming them into a place where students and neighborhoods can write their own story of future success.”

This is the twentieth anniversary of the first National Medals for Museum and Library Service. The U.S. Institute for Museum and Library Services (I.M.L.S.) is the major conduit for federal money to American museums and libraries.

After introductory remarks by First Lady Michelle Obama, I.M.L.S. Congressional Affairs Officer Gladstone Payton presented the medals. In each case, an official who represented the institution was accompanied by a member of the institution’s host community, to provide a human interest story for reporters and make concrete what the institution does for its community.

Mrs. Obama posed for pictures and briefly spoke with the recipients while Gladstone explained why the institution in question was special to the community member who accompanied its representative. In this video, one can see Mrs. Obama gave the Chicago contingent an enthusiastic welcome that drew appreciative laughs from the audience.

Regarding the C.P.L., Payton said, “Accepting the award for the Chicago Public Library, Chicago, Illinois are Brian Bannon, Commissioner of the Chicago Public Library and community member Chris Force.”

Chris Force started his business at the Chicago Public Library. He is founder and editor-in-chief of commercial publisher Alarm Press. When Chris decided he wanted to start a magazine business, he turned to the library.

Using library resources, he learned about management, marketing, and financing. The library was his business incubator, where he booked meeting rooms and found free databases to source leads. The librarians gave him guidance and support, and introduced him to publications he never knew existed. Chris now employs about 120 individuals. He makes them all get library cards and receive orientation training at Chicago Public Library. Chris says, ‘Sometimes as a small business owner all you need is anyone, even your local librarian, to give you some encouragement. Chicago is a great city for that, and the Chicago Public Library is great resource for any small business owner.’

In an I.M. L.S. press release, Bannon stated, “We are dedicated to serving as Chicago’s hub for free access to information, inspiration and the ideas of the day, and want to thank IMLS for this national recognition of the work we are doing.”

Force stated, “The staff at Chicago Public Library is fantastic. Along with being knowledgeable, they’re very supportive—and sometimes as a small business owner all you need is anyone, even your local librarian, to give you some encouragement. Chicago is a great city for that, and the CPL is great resource for any small business owner.”

In this video, Force explains his story in his own words. One of the ways librarians helped him start ALARM Magazine was by showing him the book How to Start a Magazine. Another way was by showing him the Hoovers database, which led him to potential advertisers.

Including the ten recipients of the 2014 National Medals for Museum and Library Service, since 1994 the I.M.L.S. has honored 142 institutions, as explained in this video, which History (as in The History Channel) produced for the I.M.L.S. In the video, the I.M.L.S. states, “The Chicago Public Library serves a city of 2.7 million residents, and offers dynamic, hands-on programs to promote lifelong learning and skills development for all ages. Its Maker Lab is designed to promote critical thinking and offers patrons an introduction to the latest technology. The library’s Summer Learning Challenge goes beyond books to encouraging early learners, teens, and even parents to advance their creativity through art, engineering, and interactive experiences.”

In the 2014 National Medals for Museum and Library Service Brochure, the I.M.L.S. quotes Library Commissioner Brian Bannon as saying, “Libraries play an essential role in building smart, competitive cities. They are strategic tools for unlocking innovation and potential in people.”

Through its 80 locations, Chicago Public Library serves scores of diverse neighborhoods, each with unique needs and demographics. More than 1.9 million Chicago Public Library card holders benefit from free access to books, CDs, DVDs, e-books and downloadable media, online databases, computers, Wi-Fi, and programs aimed at helping all Chicagoans to read, learn, and discover their world through multiethnic, culturally sensitive, bilingual library services.

The library is committed to serving Chicago’s diverse populations and helping to address community issues. At the same time, it also strives to be a leader in library innovation through programs that foster the 21st-century skills of its patrons.

Vital Education for All Ages

Of Chicago’s 2.7 million residents, all age groups from toddlers to seniors can find dynamic, hands-on programs to promote lifelong learning and skills development. The library’s science, technology, engineering, arts and math (STEAM)-focused Summer Learning Challenge has expanded beyond reading activity to the larger scope of a learning initiative that includes early learners, teens, and a program component for parents and caregivers to learn with their children. Children are encouraged to read both fiction and nonfiction, learn by attending theatre performances and field trips, advance their creativity through art studies, and solve engineering challenges.

The library also offers programs and resources for adults, including CyberNavigators, highly trained computer tutors who teach computer skills to library patrons through one-on-one instruction and public classes. CyberNavigators operate in 46 library locations in Chicago communities in great need of technology training. These instructors also help residents research and apply for jobs online, build resumes in workshops, and even navigate health-related information in an effort to close Chicago’s digital divide.

Connecting Youth with Technology – and Success

Chicago Public Library YOUmedia program provides young adults with state-of-the-art technology, books, media, and institutions throughout the city. YOUmedia offers teens digital skills training and ositive [sic] out-of-school activities that engage them in interest-based projects. The program aims to promote creative thinking and skill building and help diverse teen populations understand and navigate pathways into postsecondary education and meaningful careers based on their interests.

High school YOUmedia participants attend workshops in digital music, video and animation, photography, graphic design, and STEM. Teens can also borrow laptops, use gaming stations, attend workshops and programs, create digital media, and use a music recording studio.

Learning by Making

To advance problem solving, creativity, innovation, and collaboration, Chicago Public Library introduced the city’s first free public makerspace funded by a grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services. The Maker Lab offers both instructional workshops and open lab hours for customers to work with staff members on personal projects and mastering software. The Maker Lab provides patrons with an introduction to the latest technology and equipment that are enabling new forms of personal manufacturing and business opportunities, including 3D printers, laser cutters, a milling machine, and a vinyl cutter.

Since opening in July 2013, the lab has hosted more than 42,000 visitors. Maker Lab classes have been very popular, with the majority of sessions filled to capacity. The library has taken steps to integrate the Maker Lab with other programs, including YOUmedia. Participants in the teen program have the chance to explore the Maker Lab technology during special sessions. Chicago Public Library also hosted Maker Week events, taking parts of the Maker Lab experience to neighborhood branches. In recognition of the success of its Maker Lab, Chicago Public Library has been named one of the winners of the 12th annual Chicago Innovation Awards.

The I.M.L.S. listed the C.P.L.’s Community Partners as the Chicago Public Library Foundation, Chicago Community Trust, Museum of Science and Industry, Steppenwolf Theatre, John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, Society of Midland Authors, Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago, Facing History and Ourselves, Chicago Urban League, Chicago Park District, Art Institute of Chicago, Instituto del Progreso Latino, Casa Central, Illinois Science Council, Chicago Humanities Festival, Digital Youth Network, Tolten Adult & Family Literacy Center, Lincoln Park Zoo, Brookfield Zoo. The I.M.L.S. noted, “Through a grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Chigago [sic] Public Library will partner with the public library of Aarhus, Denmark to test how library systems can innovate to deliver better service, increase community impact, and be replicable globally. This year, the library will host the first NEXT Library conference to be held outside Aarhus, Denmark.”

U.S. Senator Richard Durbin (Democrat, Illinois), stated, “I applaud the Chicago Public Library and its staff on winning such a prestigious, well-deserved award. For years the Chicago Public Library has served as a cornerstone of its community,” Durbin said. “The library staff demonstrates an extraordinary commitment to learning. Their work has encouraged both children and adults to pick up a book and begin a lifelong love of reading. Congratulations to everyone who has made this such a remarkable place.”

U.S. Representative Danny K. Davis (Democrat, Illinois) stated, “The Chicago Public Library is one of our city's great public treasures - a place where every resident is welcomed. Our public library, which literally rose from the ashes of the Great Chicago Fire, empowers everyone who comes though (sic) its doors with access to knowledge, culture, news and internet technology all guided by an incredible team of dedicated librarians. Congratulations to the Library and entire staff on the receipt of this prestigious award."

U.S. Representative Dan Lipinski (Democrat, Illinois) stated, “Strong public libraries are critical for building successful communities. It is fitting that the greatest city in the world has one of the greatest library systems in the world. Congratulations on your much-deserved honor and thanks for your efforts to make sure all people have access to the world of knowledge.”

“A hearty congratulations to the Chicago Public Library for receiving the National Medal for Museum and Library Service,” stated U.S. Representative Jan Schakowsky (Democrat, Illinois). “Our public libraries are one of the greatest treasures we have in communities across our city. I am very proud that Chicago is being honored as one of the very best in the nation.”