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'They love the library, and we love them back': CHPL receives national recognition

Community members shop for books at the Chapel Hill Public Library Book Sale on Saturday, Aug. 26, 2023.

Last week, the Institute of Museum and Library Services announced the Chapel Hill Public Library is a finalist for the 2024 National Medal for Museum and Library Service.

According to the IMLS, the National Medal for Museum and Library Service is the nation’s highest honor for institutions that make significant and exceptional contributions to their communities. This year, 15 libraries and 15 museums were named finalists for the award.

Teri DeVoe, the associate deputy director for Grants to States at IMLS, said the NMMLS Board conferred on the nominations for this year, and then provided recommendations to the director of IMLS, who selects the winner. DeVoe said the board members were appointed by President Joe Biden.

DeVoe said this opportunity helps IMLS show U.S. Congress and the President exciting work that libraries and museums are doing across the nation.

“It's not just about having a fancy building, or award winning architecture,” DeVoe said. "It really is about the services and programs that are offered in service to a community and understanding what the community's needs are.” 

Congresswoman Valerie Foushee nominated Chapel Hill Public Library for the award. Hannah Olson Kanwischer, marketing and communications coordinator for Chapel Hill Public Library, said following the nomination by Foushee, library staff were asked by IMLS to turn in a narrative application — a document explaining the library's accomplishments and strategies.

Kanwischer said in the past couple of years, the library has focused on expanding internet access and digital literacy by hosting pop-up tech events for the Refugee Community Partnership and Senior Center. 

“We do a lot of things just beyond books here at the library,” Kanwischer said.

Kanwischer also said the library highlighted their commitment to environmental education, early childhood and family literacy, and community history in the application.

“Chapel Hill, as a town, loves to read,” Kanwischer said. “They love the library, and we love them back.”

Ellen Furlong, a frequent visitor of Chapel Hill Public Library, said she often utilizes the study rooms and also reads books to children.  

“I think we have a great library," Furlong said. "I've lived here for a while, so I remember when it was like half the size. And now it's huge and really clean and big and nice and quiet. Yeah, it's just a great way to study with your friends.”

Another visitor, Kelly Norman, said she does not visit the library as frequently as she did when her children were younger, although she does use the Chapel Hill Public Library app for digital materials. Norman also said in the past she has attended talks in the library’s event spaces and used the study rooms to meet with her students. 

According to a statement from the Town of Chapel Hill, winners of the National Medal will be announced in late May, and the winning institutions will be honored during a National Medal Ceremony at the White House this summer. Kanwischer said it would be nice if people posted their stories in the library during the IMLS social media campaign to share the impact.   

“It would be a very exciting thing to be able to show and say, but also really a visual representation of how much the community and the library work together,” Kanwischer said. 


@DTHCityState |

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