Libraries are normally places where you will find silence and reserve, but cheering echoed at the downtown Columbia’s main library today in celebration of news that the library was awarded the 2017 winner of the National Medal for Museum and Library Service.
After being named a finalist last year, the Richland Library was named one of 10 national winners. It’s the nation’s highest honor given to museums and libraries for their service and dedication to the community. Thirty finalists were named earlier this year, and out of the 10 winners, five were libraries.
“Richland County and South Carolina can say they are home to one of the top five libraries in the country,” said Melanie Huggins, library executive director. “As a system, this amazing team is setting new standards for what a public library can do to impact the community. We work every day to break down barriers to make sure people have access to the resources they need to make their lives better.”
The Institute of Museum and Library Services singled out a few of the programs that resulted in Richland County being given the national award.
- Opening the business career and research center in 2010 to help transform a spot in the library for small business to connect with clients.
- During the 2015 flood, Richland Library opened 48 hours after the event to provide power and other resources to the displaced. Staff traveled around the county to offer bottled water, laptops, story times and puppet shows at shelters.
- Partnered with U.S. Rep. Jim Clyburn’s office to set up FEMA locations; 14% of FEMA applications from South Carolina originated from Richland libraries.
- With a grant from Central Carolina Community Foundation, added social workers to give one-on-one consultations dealing with SNAP, veteran benefits, affordable housing and Affordable Health Care Act also known as Obamacare.
- Partnership with Richland District One and Two to accept White House’s Connect-Ed library card challenge. More than 53,000 students received library cards in 2016 and have access resources.
- Established a six-week local skills training course that features wide range of subjects for those detained at the Alvin S. Glenn Detention Center.
“None of these achievements would be possible without the support of our board and Richland County Council,” Huggins said. “They have routinely supported my staff at the highest level possible.”
County Council Chair Joyce Dickerson said the library has been a part of her family’s lives since moving to Columbia in 1975.
“That’s where my passion for the library began,” Dickerson said. “When you all come to us for funding, sometimes you might get my heart. I have a high passion because you’re not just a downtown service, but you serve the entire county, and are looking to connect each community in the county. This award proves that your work has not gone unnoticed.”
Richland Library becomes the fourth library or museum in South Carolina to be given this honor. Last year, the Columbia Museum of Art won the award. EdVenture Children’s Museum and Georgetown Libraries have also been winners.
“Medals are usually given for bravery, and courage,” Huggins said. “And I think those two words best describe my board, council and staff. We commit ourselves to nurturing a culture of caring about the community.”