Remarks by the First Lady at the National Medal for Museum and Library Services Ceremony

Washington, D.C.–(ENEWSPF)–December 17, 2010 – 11:14 A.M. EST

MRS. OBAMA:  Thank you.  (Applause.)  Good morning.  (Applause.)  Thank you all.  Please rest, rest.  (Laughter.)  Welcome to the White House.  It is wonderful to have you all here.  You’ve got snow, you’ve got Christmas, it’s the best time of year.  So, welcome.

I am so pleased that all of you could join us today as we award the 2010 National Medals for Museum and Library Service to 10 outstanding libraries and museums from across the country.

I want to start by acknowledging the members of Congress who are here with us today.  I want to thank all of you for taking the time to join us during a very busy time of the year.  But this is an important occasion and we wanted to make sure that everyone could be a part of it.

I particularly want to recognize our guests of honor today, this year’s medal winners, for your tremendous contributions to our communities.

Now, from the looks of things, you all are a pretty diverse bunch.  You come from every corner of the country, from big cities and from small towns.  And your programming involves everything from puppetry and gardening to Civil War battles and science experiments.

But you’re here today because you all share the same commitment to excellence, the same determination to serve your communities, and the same spirit of innovation.  You’re here because you’ve challenged the conventional notions of what a library or museum can and should be, pushing the boundaries of what’s possible, embracing new ideas and approaches.

At Conner Prairie Interactive History Park, for example, guests don’t just view historical re-enactments; they actually become part of them.  On one visit, they might be pioneers, living on the prairie in the early 1800s.  On the next visit, they might be fugitive slaves, risking their lives for a chance at freedom.

At Patchogue-Medford Library, which serves a large Hispanic population, they have a “Language Café” where English-speaking and Spanish-speaking teenagers can meet to practice their language skills with one other.

And the Rangeview Library District hasn’t just gotten rid of the Dewey Decimal system.  They’ve actually eliminated overdue fines.  (Laughter.)  And I understand they’ve even made T-shirts that read “Shhh is a four letter word.”  (Laughter.)

And you all don’t just think in different ways.  You actually think in very big ways.  Your work has never just been limited to the four walls of your institutions.  Instead, you bring what you have to offer to as many people as possible, reaching out to underserved populations, finding creative ways to stretch your resources as far as they can go.

The Nashville Public Library has opened up their collection to high schools across the city.  So today, students can get online, check out a book, and have it delivered right to their own school library.

At Explora, they don’t just bring kids to the museum; they bring the museums to the kids, creating more than 200 science education programs that travel to every county in the state.

And the Japanese American National Museum hosted a conference that brought together folks from all across the country to discuss topics ranging from diversity to civil liberties to social justice.

But while some of your work may be national in scope, ultimately your most powerful impact is local.  Each of you is an integral part of your community.  Each of you strives every day to meet the needs of the people who walk through your doors.  And that’s particularly true in times of challenge and crisis, when many of you offer vital services, stepping up to be there for folks when they need you the most.

For example, the New York Botanical Garden started the Bronx Green-up revitalization program, and they helped plant hundreds of school and community gardens in struggling neighborhoods so that families could grow their own fresh produce.

When the West Bloomfield Township was hard hit by the economic downturn, the West Bloomfield Township Public Library sponsored job workshops and computer trainings to get folks back on their feet.

When Hurricane Katrina struck, and many people were displaced to Jackson, Mississippi, the Mississippi Museum of Art helped start a program called “Life Shards.”  And for four months, families worked with an art therapist to create artworks out of actual debris from the storm.

And the Peter White Public Library recently hosted a series of events to educate the community about mental health and mental illness.  I think their Director, Pam Christensen, put it best when she said, “There are so many stories here, and they’re not all on the shelves.”

And I can imagine that all of you here today, all of you honorees, would probably agree with that sentiment because you know that what you do each day isn’t just about the books on your shelves, or the items in your exhibits.  It’s about the people who walk through your doors.

And that also happens to be how my husband and I view our time here at the White House, because while our family has the pleasure of living here, we know that we’re really just guests.  This is really the people’s house.  We say that all the time.  And it’s also, in its own way, a museum.

And as I told a group of children that I was visiting with earlier this week, my husband is the 44th President, which means that dozens of other presidents and their families have lived here, and each of them has created their own memories and made their own history right under this roof.

And we are determined to share that proud heritage with as many people as possible, particularly our young people, because we want them to not just experience this legacy, but to feel a part of this legacy.  That is so important for our kids.  We want them to know that they have a place in our museums, in our libraries, in our cultural centers, and most importantly in the walls of this very house, the White House.

And I know that’s what all of you strive for, as well.  And that’s your mission.  And that’s why I am very proud to be here today to honor you all for the work that you do.

So I want to thank you.  We are very, very delighted to have you here.  We’re excited about the work that you do every day.  And I want to congratulate you all on some truly magnificent achievements.  And I look forward to all that you’ll continue to do in the years ahead.

So now we can get to the business of giving out some awards, taking some pictures — (laughter) — seeing the press, and then you can get out of here and see the rest of the house.  (Laughter.)

So with that, it’s my pleasure to turn things over to Mary Chute from the Institute of Museum and Library Services who will introduce today’s honorees.  So thank you all.  (Applause.)


11:22 A.M. EST