Mid-Continent Public Library received the National Medal for Museum and Library Service during a ceremony May 8 at the White House in Washington, D.C. Presented by the Institute of Museum and Library Services, the national medal is the country’s top honor for library and museum service and presented to 10 institutions each year.
“It is certainly the highest honor we’ve received,” Mid-Continent Director Steve Potter said. “It’s about all the previous library directors and staff members, and all of us building each year. It was everybody who went before us and us as well.”
In its 49 years of service, Mid-Continent has grown to include 30 branches, serving residents in Clay, Jackson and Platte counties. Today, it is among the nation’s 20 largest library systems, providing residents with an ever-growing variety of digital resources and programs.
The Smithville branch library is at 120 Richardson St.
The ceremony marked the first time the library system had received the national medal, which has been awarded to 142 institutions over the past 20 years. Potter said the library system began completing the application last fall. To illustrate Mid-Continent’s impact on its communities, staff noted three distinct areas in the application materials: the system’s commitment to collections, focus on literacy programs for all ages, and community programming and events. The system’s diversity was also noted.
“Not a lot of libraries like Mid-Continent have urban, suburban and rural libraries in their district,” Potter said. “We can have that big focus, but we can approach it in a way that makes sense in a little community, big community or suburban community, because that’s what is demanded in our system. I think that was part of the story that did resonate well with the IMLS.”
The medal was formally presented to Mid-Continent by First Lady Michelle Obama.
“I’m not going to forget that day anytime soon,” Potter said. “It was just really, really super cool.”
Joining Potter at the ceremony was Liberty resident Alicia Moore, who served as a representative of the library system’s patrons. The Moore family played an active role in the application process, detailing their use of Mid-Continent’s Hoomeschoolers @ the Library program in a letter submitted to the IMLS. After learning of the award selection, Alicia and children Jackson and Katie began a project of visiting every Mid-Continent branch.
“I wanted to teach the kids that when you represent others, you have a responsibility,” Moore said. “We blogged about each visit as a writing project.”
The process included stops to each physical branch, as well as the Midwest Genealogy Center, a Library-To-Go site and Mid-Continent’s central office.
“That was really neat to see how they kind of fell in love with each branch. Each one had a special connection for them,” Moore said. “It was just a fantastic honor, and I’m so glad we did that tour before we left because I felt like, by doing that, in a symbolic way I was representing all of those communities. It was just a great honor.”
Potter said the award represented a new chapter in Mid-Continent’s operations.
“This allows us to reimagine ourselves. As an organization, we didn’t think about ourselves as a big deal,” he said. “Now with this, we kind of have a qualitative measure that says, ‘Yes, you are a national leader, and you should think about yourselves that way.’ We can begin to see ourselves in the second act of our library’s life now.”
County and Education Editor Ryne Dittmer can be reached at 389-6606 or firstname.lastname@example.org.