Cedar Rapids Public Library receives 'nation's highest honor'

It's one of 10 winners of National Medal for Museum and Library Service

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CEDAR RAPIDS — Less than two years ago, Cedar Rapids voters rejected a tax levy to help fund operations at the Cedar Rapids Public Library, which led to reduced hours and elimination of positions in an effort to cut the budget.

Dejected library officials called the result of the vote “sad.”

On Monday, there was a different mood in the room as officials announced the library has received the nation’s highest honor given to museums and libraries that make significant and exceptional contributions to their communities.

“After the levy vote didn’t pass, the library had to be strategic about its programs and where to dedicate the most energy,” said Amber Mussman, community relations manager for the library. “We had to really focus and I think that’s what propelled us to win this award.

“This award validates the work the library did.”

The winners were selected from 30 national finalists announced in March.

During an event in Whipple Auditorium at the downtown library, 450 Fifth Ave. SE, officials announced the library is one of 10 recipients of the 2017 National Medal for Museum and Library Service. The award is given by the Institute of Museum and Library Services, which, according to a news release, is the primary source of federal support for the nation’s 123,000 libraries and approximately 35,000 museums.

“We are one in a group of five museums and five libraries chosen ... ,” said Dara Schmidt, library director. “Out of the over 100,000 public libraries in the United States, the Cedar Rapids Public Library stands out.”

According to Schmidt, the library was selected due to the impact of its programs and services within the city. Programs offered by the library include the Legacy series, a forum for area residents to share stories about their experiences living in Iowa as black men and women and immigrants; the MICRO Loan program, which connects prospective small-business owners to librarians who can help them apply for a loan and develop a business plan; and the Summer Dare Everywhere program, which incorporates literacy programs into the community’s existing summer programs.

“Programs that are designed to meet our strategic goals, invest in young minds, build and strengthen community and transform lives,” Schmidt said. “The Cedar Rapids Public Library has taken every opportunity to respond to our community’s changing needs as best we can and with the resources that we have available. That others outside our city see and recognize our work is both humbling and gratifying.

“The Cedar Rapids Public Library is a community driven library so this is a huge community win.”

In November 2015, voters went the polls to decide the fate of a 27-cent tax levy to help fund library operations. The levy was defeated with 54.92 percent of voters siding against the measure.

The decision resulted in hours being cut at the library’s two locations — downtown and westside Ladd Library — as part of an effort to trim the budget. Those hours, which see Ladd closed on Saturday and downtown closed on Sunday, began in March 2016 and continue now.

It also meant scaling back investment in the collection and technology.

Charity Tyler, director of the Cedar Rapids Public Library Foundation, which supports the library and its programs, praised library staff for the work they do to serve the community.

“We are so proud to support the programs and services that the library provides to the community and that’s what enabled us to win the award,” she said.

Sometime later this summer, Schmidt plans to attend a ceremony in Washington, D.C., to be honored and receive both the medal and a cash award of $5,000.

According to a news release, a community member is to join Schmidt in Washington to provide a personal account of the power the Cedar Rapids Public Library has had in the community. After the ceremony, StoryCorps — a national nonprofit dedicated to recording, preserving and sharing the stories of Americans — is to visit the library to document stories from the community.

“Winning the National Medal for Museum and Library Service shines a spotlight on the work that we do and allows our community and our nation to celebrate with us the power of the public library,” Schmidt said. “I have personally worked at libraries across the country and I can tell you there is nothing like the Cedar Rapids Public Library. This place is alive because of the vibrant community that supports, challenges, needs and loves us.”

National Medal winners

Here is a list of the 2017 National Medal for Museum and Library Services recipients:

— Alaska Department of Education and Early Development (Alaska State Museums, Juneau, Alaska)

— Aspen Art Museum (Aspen, Colorado)

— Cedar Rapids Public Library

— Illinois Holocaust Museum & Education Center (Skokie, Illinois)

— Leigh Yawkey Woodson Art Museum (Wausau, Wisconsin)

— Long Beach Public Library (Long Beach, California)

— Peralta Hacienda Historical Park (Oakland, California)

— Richland Library (Columbia, South Carolina)

— University of Minnesota Libraries (Minneapolis)

— Waterville Public Library (Waterville, Maine)

l Comments: (319) 368-8538; elianna.novitch@thegazette.com

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