Susan Hildreth: Good afternoon, everyone.
Thank you for joining us for the 2014 National Medal for Museum and Library Service award
ceremony. We are here to recognize the extraordinary
work of 10 outstanding museums and libraries from across the nation and to celebrate the
valuable role these institutions, and all museums and libraries, play in our communities.
You will hear about how the medal winners demonstrate extraordinary and innovative public
service. We know that these libraries and museums change
lives. And, we asked each institution to select a community member to travel with them to
Washington to receive the award. You will hear how their lives have been changed.
Today, these ten great American places join 132 other National Medal winners as we celebrate
the 20th anniversary of the award, the nation’s highest honor for libraries and museums.
The 10 institutions we recognize today show us what is possible. They are places that
are using their physical and digital spaces, their collections and their dedicated staffs
to make a real difference in community life. We are proud to have members of the National
Museum and Library Services Board with us today: Our board members bring passion and
leadership to the Institute of Museum and Library Services’ mission and help strengthen
the educational and cultural life of our country. They also lend their expertise to the National
Medal selection process by their careful review of nominations and sharing insightful recommendations.
Thank you for your dedication and expertise. We all very much appreciate your support.
(Applause.) We are also pleased to have Diane Frankel
here with us today. Diane was the first Director of the Institute of Museum and Library Services
and her idea for a national award has blossomed into what you see today. So thank you Diane.
Wise advisors are so important to the success of any organization. Our winning institutions
have asked board members and public officials to join them here today, and I’d like to recognize
each of you. Would the board members of each institution please stand? Thank you.
And of course, our communities are made stronger by public officials who work hard on behalf
of their constituents every day. We are delighted to have several members of Congress with us
today. I would like to recognize United States Representative Andre Carson of Indiana’s 7th
Congressional District, United States Representative Hakeem Jeffries of New York’s 8th Congressional
District, and United States Representative Danny K. Davis of Illinois’ 7th Congressional
District. We are also delighted to have the Mayor of Chicago, Rahm Emanuel with us today.
I’d like to also recognize our great partner, Storycorps. Storycorps is a national nonprofit
dedicated to recording, preserving, and sharing the stories of America. They will visit each
winning institution to document stories from the community. Since 2010, they have conducted
840 National Medal interviews in communities across the country. All of the interviews
are preserved by the Library of Congress’s Center for American Folklife.
And, we are most grateful to our partner HISTORY. HISTORY has been extremely supportive of the
National Medal. Since 2007 they have produced videos that showcase our National Medal recipients
and their contributions to their community. This year’s winners represent the best of
our nation’s libraries and museums. There are countless stories across the country of
Americans, young and old, learning, enjoying, and opening doors to new and deeply powerful
experiences at their local museum or library. And now it is my distinct pleasure and deep
honor to introduce Mrs. Michelle Obama, the First Lady of the United States.
Mrs. Obama: Thank you. (Applause.) Good afternoon, everyone. It’s a — afternoon or morning?
Good morning. (Laughter.) Well, hello, everyone, and welcome to a little museum that we like
to call the White House. (Laughter.) I want to welcome all of you — our election
officials, all the board members, the community members. We are grateful to have you here.
And, Susan, thank you very much for that tremendous introduction, as well as your outstanding
leadership. We are so grateful. And of course, I want to recognize our guests
of honor, this year’s winners of the National Medal for Museums and Library Services. You
all are redefining what it means to lead a museum or a library in the 21st century. All
across the country — from Brooklyn, New York, to Independence, Missouri, to Gallup,
New Mexico — you all are putting our — your programs and exhibitions up to help us expand
our horizons and connect us with the rest of the world.
You offer dynamic classrooms for folks of all ages, from toddlers to grandparents. You
serve as a gateway to technology for so many in your communities. And as any mom with young
kids will tell you, on a rainy weekend afternoon, you are a welcome haven — (laughter) — where
kids can learn and explore. And really, the work to engage and empower
our young people is some of the most important work that all of you do. You’re teaching kids
how to get their hands dirty in community gardens — my favorite. You’re showing them
how to dance and choreograph moves of their own — another one of my favorites. You’re
opening up your planetarium doors and taking these young people on trips to outer space.
And when schools get out in the summers, you all are stepping up with all sorts of camps
and learning opportunities. So instead of spending months sitting in front of the television,
our young people are stretching their minds, they’re making new friends, and they’re having
a great time as they do it. For example, at the Oklahoma Museum of Natural
History, you’re leading summer expeditions where kids excavate dinosaur bones alongside
professional paleontologists. At the Mystic Aquarium in Connecticut, you’re offering summer
internships to teach young people about marine biology, and you’re doing it by helping them
feed and train beluga wales — very impressive. And at the North Carolina Museum of Natural
Sciences, you’re offering a weeklong “Summer Ed-Venture” program with hikes and overnight
camping to help kids discover the science that surround us in our natural environment.
So the work that you do in the summers, and throughout the year, quite frankly, is filling
a crucial role for our country as we strive to give our young people a world-class education.
And as First Lady, as many of you know, that’s one of the issues that I am very passionate
about. I am passionate about giving our kids the skills and support they need to reach
their fullest potential. And that’s why, just last week, I announced
my Reach Higher initiative, where we’re hoping to inspire young people to continue their
education beyond high school. And whether that’s at a professional training program
or a community college, or a four-year college or university, we all know that in order for
today’s young people to be able to compete in a global economy, a high school diploma
just is not enough. So we’re helping students understand the path
they need to take to achieve their education by focusing on things like financial aid,
college visits, supporting our high school counselors, and providing young people with
summer learning opportunities to give them a chance to compete and understand what they
want to get out of their education. So we’re helping students in that way because
we’re depending on young people to set big goals for themselves. That’s one of my messages,
for them to reach higher and to work harder, to work like crazy to get where they want
to be. But we all know that these kids can’t do it alone. That’s why we need all of us
— all of us — helping these kids step up in every way.
So we’re going to be getting everybody involved in this effort — from business owners and
government leaders, to congregations and community groups, and of course, libraries and museums
like the ones you all represent. In fact, all of you are providing perfect examples
of the kind of opportunities that we need to make sure that all our young people have.
So I want to applaud you for those efforts. But I also want to challenge you. I want to
challenge you to reach even higher for those kids in your communities who you might not
see so often — the kids who only make it to your buildings on a class field trip, the
kids who don’t know how to get a library card, the kids whose neighborhoods don’t offer a
lot of positive learning environments. And these kids exist in every single one of
our communities. And I know many of you are already touching these kids, but it is up
to us to reach higher for them and to give them the opportunities they need to fulfill
their boundless potential. And, again, all of you are already well on your way, which
is why we’re so thrilled and honored to have you here.
This is a special privilege for me, to be here with all of you. And I am particularly
excited that you have brought community members along with you to share in this day. So once
again, congratulations on this honor. And now, I want to turn it over to Gladstone
Payton from the Institute for Museum and Library Services to present the medals. Thank you,
all, and welcome. Gladstone Payton: Accepting the award for
the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, Brooklyn, New York, are
• Executive Director Scott Medbury and • Community Member Chidi Duke At the age of 11, Chidi Duke was introduced
to Brooklyn Botanic Garden through Project Green Reach, a science enrichment program
led by the garden in his Brooklyn elementary school. His teacher recommended him for the
Children’s Garden program, where Chidi became captivated with the plant world. His role
in the Children’s Garden grew progressively. Eventually he became a leader and mentor to
younger participants. He enrolled in the Brooklyn Academy of Science and Environment, the public
high school co-founded by Brooklyn Botanic Garden and Prospect Park Alliance with the
Department of Education. Chidi is now a student at The City University of New York’s John
Jay College of Criminal Justice. He continues to be a part of Brooklyn Botanic Garden as
an instructor for teens. 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.”
Accepting the award for The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis, Indianapolis, Indiana are:
• President and CEO, Jeffrey H. Patchen and
• Community member Spencer Hahn together with his mother Erica Hahn Eight-year old Spencer Hahn suffered a stroke
in-utero that damaged half of his brain, and further complications led to lifelong challenges.
Doctors thought he would never walk or talk. Seeking to stimulate her son’s mind with new
experiences, Spencer’s mother, Erica Hahn, brought him to The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis.
There, something extraordinary began to happen—Spencer responded. The museum provided an environment
where Spencer felt happy and safe. At the Playscape exhibit, which was created to encourage
the youngest kids to reach developmental milestones, Spencer took his first steps. After that,
Spencer experienced other “firsts” at the museum: his first successful attempt at climbing
and his first word. Spencer loves the museum’s theater and mascot, Rex, and continues his
hands-on learning every time he visits his favorite museum.
Accepting the award for the Las Vegas-Clark County Library District, Las Vegas, Nevada
are • Executive Director Jeanne Goodrich and
• Community member Avree Walker Community member Avree Walker is a shining
example of how libraries change lives. Avree “grew up” at the West Las Vegas Library branch
of the Las Vegas-Clark County Library District, using the collection and electronic resources
for schoolwork and for research projects and papers. The library’s introduced Avree to
a world outside his neighborhood, and inspired him to pursue his passion for dance. Today,
Avree is pursuing a Bachelor’s degree in dance from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas,
and is a dancer with Las Vegas Contemporary Dance Theatre. He gives back to his community
and library by working with youth at the library as both a choreographer and a producer.
Accepting the Award for the Mid-Continent Public Library, Independence, Missouri, are
• Library Director and CEO Steven V. Potter and
• Community Member Alicia Moore In deciding where she and her family would
move, Alicia Moore took a community’s library into serious consideration. As a homeschooling
mom, she knew that she would depend on the library for materials to support her children’s
learning. Mid-Continent Public Library’s Homeschoolers at the Library program in Liberty, Missouri,
made the grade. The library partners with homeschooling families to get them the materials,
programs, research databases, and assistance they need at any of their 35 locations. Each
week, Alicia’s third and fifth graders spend hours at local branches, in the study rooms,
checking out books, and attending all kinds of programs, from bookclubs to magic shows.
She says, “As parents, we want to teach our children the value of reading books for both
recreation and education. Thankfully, we have found a community-oriented library where our
children feel comfortable.” Accepting the Award for the Mystic Aquarium,
Mystic, Connecticut, are: • President and CEO Dr. Stephen M. Coan
and • Community Member Justin Richard
Justin Richard never expected a quick aquarium visit between college tours in Connecticut
to turn into an avenue for pursuing his passion. During his first visit to Mystic Aquarium,
he was mesmerized by the beluga whale. He volunteered at the aquarium and became involved
in a comprehensive, hands-on summer internship. He became a marine mammal trainer, working
for the aquarium for eight years training animals and educating students and the general
public about them. Justin enrolled at the University of Rhode Island to study science
and to become more involved with marine mammals. He is pursuing a Ph.D. there in integrative
and evolutionary biology through a National Science Foundation fellowship. Justin’s relationship
with Mystic Aquarium continues with his research into non-invasive ways to monitor the health
of wild beluga populations. Accepting the Award for North Carolina Museum
of Natural Sciences, Raleigh, North Carolina, are:
• Museum Director Dr. Emlyn Kostner and • Community Member Molly Paul
At five, Molly Paul decided she was going to be a marine biologist and aquarium director.
That was when Molly’s parents took her to the North Carolina Museum of Natural Science
and Molly fell in love. Since then she has spent countless hours in the exhibits and
sitting in front of the fish tanks. She attended a museum camp and found mentors in the museum
staff. She was even inspired to begin her own turtle adoption organization for unwanted
pet turtles. Molly’s passion and enthusiasm for marine life grew when she was accepted
into the museum’s Junior Curator Program, working with the Fish and Invertebrates Department.
And now, as a high school sophomore she spends more than three days a week at the museum.
Molly says, “The museum is my second home, it’s where I’m the happiest. The museum has
helped shape me into a lifelong learner, active community member, and leader.” Accepting the Award for Octavia Fellin [Pronunciation]
Public Library, Gallup, New Mexico, are: • Director Mary Ellen Pellington and
• Community Member Maria Elena Reyes Maria Elena Reyes grew up on the Navajo Nation
in Pinedale, New Mexico. The reservation elementary school had limited resources, so at an early
age, she became acquainted with the Octavia Fellin Public Library. She remembers her mother
taking the long drive to Gallup, so that she could attend library programs, use its resources
for school projects, or escape into a good book. Now a mother herself, Maria brings her
children, two young boys, aged three and five, to the library to inspire their love of reading.
Maria views the Octavia Fellin Public Library as an important community resource, providing
access to books, educational and child-centric programming, and collections in the Navajo
language. Accepting the Award for Sam Noble Oklahoma
Museum of Natural History, Norman, Oklahoma, are:
• Director Dr. Michael A. Mares and • Community member Ernesto Vargas
If there was anything that Ernesto Vargas knew at age sixteen, it was that he was passionate
about science. In pursuing his interest, Ernesto signed up for the ExplorOlogy, a program at
the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History. Through the program’s Paleo Expedition, Ernesto
went on summer field expeditions with real scientists. He was surrounded by people who
shared his desire to explore, and Ernesto began volunteering as a museum docent. The
following year, he joined the Paleo Expedition trip as a peer mentor. His hard work and service
at the museum contributed to his selection as a Gates Millennium Scholar and he now studies
geology and paleontology at the University of Chicago. He says, “As a future scientist,
I look forward to one day sharing my knowledge and experience with others, just like the
scientists at the Sam Noble Museum’s ExplorOlogy program did for me.”
Accepting the Award for Yiddish Book Center, Amherst, Massachusetts, are:
• Founder and President, Aaron Lansky and • Community Member Dr. Peter Manseau
As a French-Irish Catholic attending college in Amherst, Massachusetts, Peter Manseau knew
little about Jewish culture and Yiddish works before his summer internship at the Yiddish
Book Center in 1996. During his time in the program, Peter found himself immersed in the
literature and fascinated by religious culture. He learned about Jewish history and culture
and the Yiddish language. Drawing from his experience at the Yiddish Book Center, Peter
was inspired to write Songs for the Butcher’s Daughter, an award-winning novel about Yiddish
literature and preservation. Peter received his doctorate from Georgetown University in
religion and is currently a fellow in American religious history at the Smithsonian’s National
Museum of American History. Mrs. Obama: Well, what an excellent array
of programs. We are so proud of all of you. We’re just hopeful that this is the boost
that you need to keep doing the great work that you’re doing. Having it here at the White
House, having the media here, remembering that you all are opening so many doors for
people in communities across this country. It is an honor and a privilege. Everyone,
let’s give these awardees another round of applause. (Applause.)
And that concludes our program, but we’re going to open up those doors. We have a wonderful
reception for everyone here. I promised someone over there some cookies. (Laughter.) And he’s
been suffering through all of this — (laughter) — just waiting for the cookies. So I don’t
think I will delay any longer. Once again, it’s an honor to have you all
here. Congratulations, and we look forward to seeing you again next year. So enjoy. (Applause.)