Philadelphia Free Library to get a national honor for service

Posted: October 21, 2003

The Free Library of Philadelphia is receiving a 2003 National Award for Museum and Library Service.

The award, which carries a $10,000 prize, will be announced today by the Institute of Museum and Library Services, the federal agency that funds museums and libraries. Based in Washington, the institute helps 15,000 museums and 122,000 libraries across the country.

Robert S. Martin, director of the institute, will be in Philadelphia today to present the award.

"It is, indeed, the nation's highest honor for a library," said Eileen Maxwell, a spokeswoman for the institute. "The Free Library of Philadelphia is being recognized for going well beyond providing library service."

The awards are given to libraries for their outstanding social, educational, environmental or economic contributions. Maxwell cited the Free Library's "incredible outreach programs, especially those focusing on technology," as reasons for the award.

"It's a huge honor," said Free Library spokeswoman Jennifer Berry-McNulty. "It shows that we take our outreach seriously."

The library and its 54 branches have a variety of programs including Generations Online, a program that helps people 65 and older learn to use the Internet, and a teen technology program in which teenagers work in the libraries to help with computers.

In a city where 41 percent of households do not have a computer, the 700 computers in library branches help people cross the digital divide.

In addition, the library sponsors a summer reading program that served 54,000 students last summer; an after-school program called LEAP that provides homework help to 85,000 students; and Books Aloud!, a program that helps parents and day-care workers instill literacy in toddlers and preschoolers. The library also provides Sundays on Stage, live performances from a variety of cultures and ethnicities, and Work Place, a program to help people find jobs and careers.

The National Award for Museum Service was established in 1994 and the National Award for Library Service in 2000. All types of museums, from anthropological to zoological, fine art to folk art, urban and rural, large and small can be nominated for this award, according to the institute.

The Philadelphia library is one of three library winners being announced.

The others are the Bozeman Public Library in Bozeman, Mont., and the Pocahontas County Free Libraries in Marlinton, W.Va.

The museum winners are the Carnegie Science Center in Pittsburgh, the San Angelo Museum of Fine Arts in San Angelo, Texas, and the USS Constitution Museum in Boston. In 2002, the Please Touch Museum in Philadelphia was a recipient of the award.

Contact staff writer Lucia Herndon at 215-854-5724 or lherndon@phillynews.com.

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