Local library wins national medal

Marshalltown has another feather to stick in its cap. With the third-grade reading campaign making the city an All-America City and the Farmers’ Market on Main winning the Best Special Project Award in 2011, city officials have a lot to brag about.

Now they have one more thing: the Marshalltown Public Library is the winner of the National Medal for Museum and Library Services. The Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) announced the five winners Tuesday morning.

“I had a good feeling we would win; it was still overwhelming,” said Sarah Rosenblum, library director.

Rosenblum attributed the win to the library’s community collaboration in unique programs such as allowing the Housing Department to use two houses it owns as part of its lead abatement program. Rosenblum highlighted these programs as well as the library’s work to accommodate people of all ages and ethnic backgrounds in its application to the IMLS.

The library’s annual participation in Dia de los Ninos/Dia de los Libros (Children’s Day/Book Day) and its being home to one of America’s earliest Children’s Rooms, typify its commitment to early childhood literacy, said Susan Hildreth, IMLS director.

With the community outreach to the Hispanic population, Marshalltown has laid the groundwork for forging relationships with its other immigrant populations, she said. The days of libraries and museums telling people what kind of art they should appreciate and what kind of books they should read are gone.

“They are really engaged in what is needed in their communities,” Hildreth said. “(They) are changing and going to the community and saying ‘what do you want?'”

Often, Hildreth added, the award can act as a catalyst to raising private funding.

Marshalltown Public Library was the smallest library chosen. Other winners included libraries in Tacoma, Wash., and Cincinnati. But Hildreth said size is not what the IMLS looks for. Actually, it’s beside the point.

“It’s the heart and dedication of the staff,” she said.

The IMLS will present the award May 8 in Washington, D.C., which includes a $5,000 cash prize. StoryCorps, a nonprofit that catalogues narratives, will record stories from Marshalltown Library patrons. StoryCorps recordings are entering into the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress and are featured on NPR’s “Morning Edition.”

Rosenblum, Maureen Lyons, assistant library director, Sandy Gowdy, president of the library board, and local Veronica Guevara will all travel to D.C. for the ceremony. As part of the ceremony, IMLS officials will film Guevara testifying to the library’s impact on her life. As someone whose native language is not English, Guevara said the library’s wealth of assets for non-native speakers helped her get an internship in D.C. last year and get scholarships to the University of Iowa.

“That really helped me maintain and development my English and sharpen my Spanish,” Guevara said of the cache of materials presented in both languages helping provide her with opportunities. “If it hadn’t been for the helpful staff and resources they have, my chances would have been slim.”

Marshalltown is lucky to have such an accommodating library, she added.

According to the IMLS, the 10 winners – five libraries and five museums – demonstrate innovative approaches to public service, exceeding the expected levels of community outreach. The Cedar Rapids National Czech & Slovak Museum & Library also won a medal.

Rosenblum said having the library acknowledged among a field of larger libraries shows the size of a library or museum budget is unimportant.

“There is nobody that knows how to stretch a dime like a librarian,” she said. “We serve everybody.”

The local library is a microcosm of America, Rosenblum said. Awards like the National Medal for Museum and Library Services shows those looking to live in Marshalltown just what it has to offer. Libraries build communities, she added.

Bethany Wirin, at-large council member, said as a mother of two, she regularly uses the library, and while she knows it’s great, having someone else acknowledge its contributions is even better. Its work is invaluable to Marshalltown.

“It’s a jewel in our crown,” she said.