Otis Library and Mystic Aquarium finalists for national awards

Otis Library director Robert Farwell, second from left, poses with members of his staff, from left, Cathleen Special, human resources and administrative coordinator; Andrea Kaiser; director of institutional advancement; and Julie Menders, community engagement and programming coordinator, after announcing that the library is a 2014 finalist for the National Medal for Museum and Library Service on Monday, March 3, 2014. Farwell made the surprise announcement to a crowd of staff and supporters gathered in the library atrium. Mystic Aquarium is also a finalist for the award.
Otis Library director Robert Farwell, second from left, poses with members of his staff, from left, Cathleen Special, human resources and administrative coordinator; Andrea Kaiser; director of institutional advancement; and Julie Menders, community engagement and programming coordinator, after announcing that the library is a 2014 finalist for the National Medal for Museum and Library Service on Monday, March 3, 2014. Farwell made the surprise announcement to a crowd of staff and supporters gathered in the library atrium. Mystic Aquarium is also a finalist for the award. Sean D. Elliot/The Day

Otis Library in Norwich and the Mystic Aquarium are among 30 finalists for the National Medal for Museum and Library Service awards, the nation’s highest honor for libraries and museums.

Five libraries and five museums will be announced as winners April 24 by the Institute of Museum and Library Services, the primary federal funding source for these institutions. Fifteen libraries and 15 museums were announced as finalists Monday. Other Connecticut finalists were Hartford Public Library and Mattatuck Museum in Waterbury.

“Museums and libraries serve as civic engagement centers, providing invaluable educational, social and skill-based resources to their communities,” said Susan Hildreth, director of the Institute of Museum and Library Services, in Monday’s press release. “The 2014 National Medal finalists have gone above and beyond to create an environment that allows individuals to learn, play, connect and remain curious.”

Winners will receive the awards May 8 in Washington, D.C.

Otis Library Executive Director Robert Farwell announced the finalist designation to about 25 staff, city officials and library supporters Monday morning in the library atrium. Farwell thanked the staff and volunteer supporters for elevating the library to the status of national recognition.

Other library finalists include the Los Angeles Public Library, the Sacramento Public Library and Chicago Public Library.

“So we are in elite company here,” Farwell said, “even though we are not an elitist institution.”

Farwell said winners will receive a $5,000 award, which he said he would use to fill a busload of supporters to attend the awards ceremony in May.

The award recognizes institutions for “significant and exceptional contributions to their communities,” the institute’s finalist announcement said. Including 2013 winners, 132 institutions have received the award, now in its 20th year.

Kerry Bannon Garofano, corporate and foundation relations manager for Mystic Aquarium, said the aquarium was “excited and thrilled” to be nominated for the first time for the national medal. Board member Rodney Butler nominated the aquarium.

Bannon Garofano cited a variety of programs at the aquarium and in the community that stood out in the nomination, including an outreach to schools throughout the region and the Community Classroom program at Stonington High School.

“It’s a blend of what we offer on site at Mystic Aquarium and what we do off site,” she said. “We go into schools and do educational programs.”

U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney, D-2nd District, nominated Otis for the award, and Farwell said library officials were working on the nomination “simultaneously” with the congressman’s support. The Norwich Community Development Corp. and library supporters William Kenny and Elanah Sherman, who organizes art and photography exhibits at Otis, sent letters of support.

“In both cases, these are institutions which provide resources that do so much to make our population aware and informed about issues,” said Courtney, reached on the phone Monday. “The aquarium is a world leader in research, with the Robert Ballard institute, and Otis Library is one of the underappreciated gems in our area. We’re very excited that the quality level is recognized.”

Farwell credited several programs at Otis that stood out in the award nomination, including its work with Norwich public schools, internship programs for students at Norwich Free Academy and Three Rivers Community College, and programs for senior citizens and recent immigrants. Otis also has been an advocate of Norwich’s renewed community policing program.

At the close of Monday’s press conference at Otis, staff handed out business cards announcing Otis as a finalist for the national Medal for Library Service and asking patrons to go to the institution’s Facebook page and post comments of support for Otis.

In its announcement Monday, the Institute of Museum and Library Service encouraged finalists to “share their story” on the IMLS Facebook page, www.facebook.com/USIMLS.

c.bessette@theday.com

Otis Library director Robert Farwell announces that the library is a 2014 finalist for the National Medal for Museum and Library Services Monday, March 3, 2014 in Norwich. Farwell made the surprise announcement to a crowd of staff and supporters gathered in the library atrium. Mystic Aquarium is also a finalist for the award.
Otis Library director Robert Farwell announces that the library is a 2014 finalist for the National Medal for Museum and Library Services Monday, March 3, 2014 in Norwich. Farwell made the surprise announcement to a crowd of staff and supporters gathered in the library atrium. Mystic Aquarium is also a finalist for the award. Sean D. Elliot/The Day
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