For many Chapel Hill residents, national recognition for hardworking locals is always worth celebrating. But during a pandemic, artistic institutions that uplift and support the community play an even larger role in aiding the healing town.
On March 18, the Chapel Hill Public Library was announced as one of 30 finalists for the 2021 National Medal for Museum and Library Service – an award created by the Institute of Museum and Library Services to recognize excellence in libraries and museums and the significance of their impacts on their local communities.
Cyndee Landrum, the deputy director for library services for IMLS, said this medal is something special for both institutions and their respective communities.
“A library is an integral part of the community, but the community is also an integral part of the library,” Landrum said. “In that sense, it’s a source of hometown pride.”
Susan Brown, the director of the Chapel Hill Public Library, said the team at CHPL is very community-driven, which is something that makes its resources so meaningful.
“Some of the things we do, you won’t see at other libraries because we’re doing them for Chapel Hill, and every community is different,” Brown said. “For example, we do all of this work on civil rights history at Chapel Hill, and we have this community history program. Not every library has that, but Chapel Hill needed that.”
Brown also believes the library stands out in its focus on users. She said the staff strives to identify barriers to access and strategies to knock them down. Because of this dedication, the library went fine-free last year.
As for the recognition itself, Brown said she and the other staff members at the library are thrilled.
“It’s really a testament to the great team that works at the library and the great community that we serve,” Brown said. “We've worked really hard over the past few years to really focus on our users and our community and developing our staff to meet their needs, so this award really recognizes that hard work and I think highlights the ways that we can be a model for other libraries.”
Lauren Talley, a former city and state assistant editor at The Daily Tar Heel, 2020 UNC graduate and avid reader, wrote one of CHPL's recommendations. She is the library’s self-proclaimed “biggest fan" – she even has a CHPL koozie represented in her graduation photo.
She said during her time at the University, the public library provided a sense of welcome for her, particularly to the community of Chapel Hill outside the University.
“When you're a college student, it's so easy to get caught up in the University bubble and forget that there's so much more to Chapel Hill than just the University,” Talley said. “Coming to UNC was my first time moving away from where I grew up my whole life, and the library was really great for me to feel connected to my new home and get to know the community.”
This sense of community that Talley describes is precisely what the IMLS medal aims to recognize: communal impact.
“If you're considering visiting the library, go in knowing that it doesn't matter if it's your first time ever getting a library card or if you’ve had one for 10 years,” Talley said. “It really will open up an access to so many resources, not just books, but people and conversations and community. Public libraries are so much more than the books that they hold.”
Brown said each national medal finalist will have a social media spotlight day, and the CHPL will be featured for its spotlight day on April 30. On that day, the library will be asking the community to take part by sharing short testimonials on social media of how the library has impacted their lives.
The winners will be announced in May across all IMLS social media platforms.
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