Last week, the White House honored 12 museum and library representatives as Champions of Change in a program that “recognizes individuals, businesses and organizations who are doing extraordinary things to empower and inspire members of their communities.”
Given its emphasis on creating community and inspiring community members, it seems natural for the White House to focus on museums and libraries, since their mission is to meet the evolving needs of the communities they serve.
Cited were places that “make a difference for their neighborhoods and for our nation…providing powerful learning experiences…reaching young children and their families with early learning opportunities…offering experiences for teens to develop skills…helping immigrants learn English and pursue citizenship…providing opportunities for hard-to-reach populations.”
Among giants like the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco, the Children’s Museum of Manhattan, and the Richmond Public Library were smaller but equally innovative institutions: the Library Media Center at Longfellow Elementary School (Howard County Public Schools, Maryland), and Central New York’s Fayetteville Free Library.
During the commemoration, representatives of the honored institutions told how they provide access to information, technology, and ideas that create powerful learning opportunities for patrons and guests.
Leslie Bushara, of the Children’s Museum of Manhattan, spoke of the role libraries and museums have in supporting families. She has partnered with the National Institute of Health to address children’s health issues such as childhood obesity.
The museum is installing two exhibits, EatSleepPlay and PlayWorks, in a public housing Head Start Center in East Harlem, creating a first-of-its-kind early learning hub. She writes,”we aim to deliver early childhood literacy and health programming using the magic of a museum environment.”
Elizabeth Babcock, of the California Academy of Sciences, affirmed the importance of equitable access to educational opportunities, saying museums and libraries are foundational institutions that bring those opportunities to life. Her academy has created learning opportunities that focus on STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art, and math) and it “aims to provide teens with the access and skills they need to use emerging technologies, and to transform them from media consumers to media producers.”
Susan Considine, executive director of the Fayetteville Free Library (FFL), described her library’s culture of relentless innovation that made it the first library in the country to provide patron access to 3D printing. The FFL’s mission is about much more than patron access to cutting-edge technology, however. It’s about community members meeting like-minded individuals with similar interests, gathering together, and forming friendships because of the library.
This mission resonates strongly with me. I am a member of the FFL staff, and our group has worked together, collaboratively and across traditional department lines, to engage the community. We establish relationships with community experts who want to share their knowledge and passion with others, and as librarians, facilitate these connections, allowing the community to build community. As FFL leader Sue has explained:
“Our philosophy is simple: we let the community needs, aspirations, desires, and interests drive the library agenda. Our mission statement sums up what we believe to be true, that by creating equal and open access for individuals to cutting-edge technology, unique and innovative learning opportunities, powerful ideas, and each other, community members will transform their own lives.”
The White House selections reflect the presidential initiative of incoming American Library Association President Barbara Stripling, assistant professor of practice at the School of Information Studies. She affirms that libraries can be “community centers of conversation, innovation, and literacy.”
This ability to change and grow to meet emerging needs should be at the heart of every library’s mission.
Libraries and museums are more than the sum of their collections because they are reflective of the communities they serve. That is why innovation in libraries matters: without it we begin to lose our relevance and our ability to make a positive impact.
The White House highlighted just a few of our country’s extraordinary libraries and museums. What innovations are underway at your favorite library or museum?