“It’s pretty overwhelming,” said Mather.
The Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) awards a total of 10 medals and grants every year in two categories: museums and libraries. There will be five winners in each category.
“You have to be nominated for this particular award” and U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist, D-FL 13th District, did just that, said Mather.
“Gulfport Public Library offers several invaluable resources to its diverse community,” wrote Crist in his nomination letter to the IMLS dated September 27, 2018. “A brand-new art makers’ space provides an open and supportive place for the many talented artists in the area to hone their craft. Its nationally recognized LGBTQ Resource Center – the only one of its kind in the State of Florida – provides incredible educational opportunities to community members of all backgrounds.”
The library also offers a free lunch program during the summer for all kids and is dedicated to engaging students of all ages, wrote Crist. Educational programs are also offered to older residents through the Senior Center for Technology program. The library “truly has something for everyone in our community.”
Still, Mather wasn’t expecting the nomination.
“I think it’s great,” he said. “We’re a very small library and we’re up against some bigger ones.” Other library finalists include the entire system in Los Angeles County, California and the University of Michigan’s Institute for Social Research in Ann Arbor.
“It’s pretty exciting that Crist would think of us like that – that we would be on his radar,” said Mather. “But also exciting is the outpouring of local people that wanted to write letters on our behalf” for the application process. Three people had their letters selected: Phyllis Plotnick, Christine Harper and Daniel Hodge.
“The library has been a dream not only realized but exceeded,” wrote Plotnick. “Just seven years ago, our library was languishing in use and in spirit. A new Friends Board, city administration and dedicated community residents came together to revive the library and set it on an extraordinary course. I had the good fortune of being on the Circle of Friends board and watching the transformation unfold.”
In 2018, the library was nationally recognized by the American Library Association for its LGBTQ Resource Center.
This year’s national nomination is different.
“This one is really exciting because it’s not only the library or people who work directly with the library – it really was dependent on some of the patrons who appreciate us and were willing to let us know how they use the services,” said Mather. “It’s gratifying that we actually see first-hand how it’s impacting people.”
To view the 15 finalists in each category announced on March 11, visit imls.gov/issues/national-initiatives/national-medal-museum-and-library-service/2019-medals#finalists.