The Mid-Continent Public Library system has been adding facilities and offering wider, deeper programing for half a century.
A major national award is now recognizing those efforts. The library system is one of 10 winners of the 2014 National Medal for Museum and Library Service. Winners will be given their awards next month at a ceremony in Washington, D.C., including First Lady Michelle Obama.
“It really is the culmination of 50 years of hard work,” said Mid-Continent’ s director and CEO, Steven V. Potter, the library’ s director and CEO.
Mid-Continent, begun in 1965, is based in Independence. It has 31 locations, including the Midwest Genealogy Center in Independence, in Jackson, Clay and Platte counties, with a high concentration of them in Eastern Jackson County.
The award recognizes a library’s commitment to its collection, community outreach, and a focus on early childhood services. Although some libraries up for the award focus on a particular program, Mid-Continent stressed its range of programs, such as those that foster greater literacy. One example is its summer reading program.
“It’s long-lasting, and it’s long-reaching,” Potter said.
It’s actually five programs, Potter said, one each for preschoolers, school-age children, teens, those in a day care or another institutional setting, and one in which the goals and rewards can be tailored, for example, to the needs of a child with reading disabilities.
The program has always been based on incentives to get children to read. Read enough books, and you get a free book.
“And you get to build your own personal library. And that’s not common” at libraries, Potter said.
All of that supports the library system’s long-term goal of fostering greater literacy.
There is encouraging early evidence from a pilot study, involving the library, regarding academically at-risk students who take part in summer reading programs. Typically, a lot of students lose a little ground from spring to fall when school is out – but maybe not with summer readers.
“Over time, incrementally, they’ ll be able to catch up,” Potter said. “That’ s what the data are suggesting.”
The library system a couple of years ago took part in a community needs assessment, a process that posed the basic question: What does our ideal community look like? And then, Potter said, “What can the library do to help us get there?” That, he said, led to the emphasis on a holistic approach to literacy.
Other programs include “Read Aloud 1-2-3,” encouraging first through third graders to read aloud with a partner or family member, as a group or in a classroom. Students earn books in the “Magic Tree House” series. In the first year, according to Mid-Continent, more than 1,700 students took part. There also are adult literacy programs.
Other medal winners for 2014 are the Brooklyn Botanic Garden; the Chicago Public Library; the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis; the Las Vegas-Clark County Library District; the Mystic Aquarium in Mystic, Conn.; the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences in Raleigh, N.C.; the Octavia Fellin Public Library, Gallup, N.M.; the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History in Norman, Okla.; and the Yiddish Book Center in Amherst, Mass.