National spotlight on libraries' literacy work

Pierce County Library System's efforts to advance early learning and be a "cornerstone of the communtyGÇ¥ had the attention last Wednesday of the nation, including the president's wife. During a ceremony at the White House, First Lady Michelle Obama was among the presenters of the National Medal for Museum and Library Service to the Pierce County system and nine other recipients from across the U.S. It's the nation's highest recognition of service provided by libraries and museums to individuals, families and communities as a whole. Joining Obama in presenting this year's award was Susan Hildreth, director of Institute of Museum and Library Services. Accepting for Pierce County Library System was its executive director, Neel Parikh, and Jo Cruz, a Spanaway resident and supporter of the libraries' advocacy of childhood literacy. Cruz frequently took her young children to libraries to browse through picture books and for story times. That experience showed that a foundation in literacy improves the future of children, said Cruz, whose son is graduating this year from high school. Cruz, a childcare professional, plans early-literacy activities for kids in her care. She noted the library is a major resource and a place for community events such as block parties and group meetings for childcare workers. "Families, childcare professionals and our library system are team players. It is reassuring to know that the success of our children is supported by passionate people concerned about the future of our little ones,GÇ¥ said Cruz. Hildreth said Pierce County residents benefit from its libraries being "centers for lifelong learning and cornerstones for our communities.GÇ¥ She noted that the library system "is conducting their own research and implementing authentic solutions to lead the way in early literacy, to support diverse constituencies, and to create meaningful partnerships.GÇ¥ In 2010 and 2011, library officials worked with the University of Washington and Florida State University on "Our Children are Ready for Reading,GÇ¥ a study with in-home childcare providers in Pierce County. The study proved that providing caregivers with methods and training to help children learn to read makes a significant difference in their development, officials said. That work led to a national award for the library system GÇô the Innovations Initiative Award for Literacy, presented in July 2011 by Urban Libraries Council, an organization of leading public libraries. Pierce County's libraries were one of 11 recipients of the award from among 200-plus applicants. Approximately two years later, the library system has earned the National Medal. Other 2013 recipients honored at the White House include a science center, children's, music, art and cultural museums, and public libraries. Honored along with the Pierce County libraries were Boston Children's Museum in Boston, Mass., Columbus Museum of Art in Columbus, Ohio, Delta Blues Museum in Clarksdale, Miss.,-á Discovery Science Center in Santa Ana, Calif., Marshalltown (Iowa) Public Library, National Czech and Slovak Museum and Library in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County in Ohio, Rancho Cucamonga (Calif.) Public Library, and Waukegan (Ill.) Public Library. The award ceremony was streamed live on Medal winners are selected from nationwide nominations of institutions that demonstrate innovative approaches to public service and exceed the expected levels of community outreach. U.S. Sens. Maria Cantwell and Patty Murray added their praise to the National Medal kudos. Cantwell said the award "is a testamentGÇ¥ to the county library system's "hard workGÇ¥ and "leadership in promoting early literacy and learning. These libraries are also hubs for the community, with resources for job-seekers and small-business owners, and unique programs for military families and children with special needs.GÇ¥ Murray said the system "goes above and beyond by engaging with the community.GÇ¥ Later this year, StoryCorps GÇô a national non-profit group that preserves and shares the stories of Americans GÇô will visit Pierce County Library System to document stories from community members, officials said. The system's 18 branches, including locations in Graham, Eatonville, Parkland-Spanaway and South Hill, combine to be the largest provider of free books and information in Pierce County. Their activities, siuch as storytimes for young kids and help with homework for students, help make reading and learning fun for families and children fun, officials said. The Institute of Museum and Library Services, based in Washington, D.C., is the primary source of federal support for the nation's 123,000 libraries and 17,500 museums. They're supported by the organization's grants, policy development and research.


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