Otis Library a 2016 recipient of nation’s highest museum and library honor

Otis Library Executive Director Rob Farwell, second from left, speaks with well-wishers after announcing that the library is a gold medal recipient for the Nation Medal for Museum and Library Service from the Institute of Museum and Library Services, Tuesday, April 19, 2016. (Tim Martin/The Day)
Otis Library Executive Director Rob Farwell, second from left, speaks with well-wishers after announcing that the library is a gold medal recipient for the Nation Medal for Museum and Library Service from the Institute of Museum and Library Services, Tuesday, April 19, 2016. (Tim Martin/The Day)

Norwich — Calling Otis Library “a vigorous community asset,” library Executive Director Robert Farwell announced to the cheers of some 50 staff members, city leaders and library supporters that Otis will receive a gold medal of excellence in June as one of the nation's top five libraries.

The Washington, D.C.-based Institute of Museum and Library Services on Tuesday named Otis Library as one of 10 recipients of the 2016 National Medal for Museum and Library Service, the nation’s highest honor given to museums and libraries for service to the community.

Five libraries and five museums will receive the award at a June 1 ceremony in Washington.

Otis was a finalist for the award two years ago, and this year shares the honor with public libraries in Brooklyn, N.Y.; Madison, Wis.; North Carolina State University in Raleigh, N.C.; and Santa Ana, Calif.

Farwell pointed out that Otis is the smallest library among the winners in terms of population served.

He thanked library staff and volunteers who run numerous programs at the library to keep its ties to the community strong.

“It is community support,” Farwell said of the most essential factor in winning the award. “The support rendered by the city of Norwich, by the thousands of residents who visit the library each month, who utilize our resources, who recognize the role of public libraries as the people's university and a source of lifelong enjoyment. Our success is a result of your belief in the efficacy of public libraries and for that, you have our eternal gratitude.”

For 22 years, the national award has celebrated institutions that respond to societal needs in innovative ways, making a difference for individuals, families and their communities, according to a news release issued Tuesday morning.

The release stated that Otis Library, founded in 1850, exemplifies its mission every day, identifying the needs and interests of citizens and providing opportunities for lifelong learning and personal growth.

Otis Library prides itself on being a community center that connects with individuals and entities beyond its traditional space and service.

“This year’s National Medal recipients show the transforming role of museums and libraries from educational destinations to full-fledged community partners and anchors,” said Kathryn K. Matthew, director of the Institute of Museum and Library Services, said in the release. “We are proud to recognize the extraordinary institutions that play an essential role in reaching underserved populations and catalyzing new opportunities for active local involvement.”

Janice Knudsen of Lebanon has been coming to Otis for seven years as a volunteer with Literacy Volunteers and to use the library's extensive local history collection.

Otis provides three classrooms and one video lab for Literacy Volunteers to hold informal English conversation sessions, Knudsen said. But more than that, the library staff provides a comfortable atmosphere for regulars and newcomers alike.

"Everyone is just so welcoming and friendly," she said. "We feel very comfortable, and the learners do, too."

Otis staff also stocks bilingual children's books, so parents can read to their children, and has books in various foreign languages for immigrants.

"It's nice we have a liaison between us and the library," Knudsen said.

Standing in a circle in the Otis Library atrium on Tuesday to hear the award announcement were several volunteers who run some of the innovative community programs at the library.

Elanah Sherman, a local arts advocate, called the award “well-deserved and entirely expected.”

Sherman curates art exhibits at the library, highlighting Norwich's ethnic diversity and community makeup.

Her latest project will celebrate the contributions of four Gualtieri brothers — Joseph, Mario, Dino and Peter — and their cousin, Albert. Joseph Gualtieri was a painter and longtime director of the Slater Memorial Museum.

Library board of trustees Chairman Lloyd Hinchey called it “remarkable” that Otis, in a city with a population of just over 40,000, shares the distinction with libraries in cities with population sizes of 200,000 to over 1 million.

“We always want to pursue community needs and engage with residents on a regular basis to address what they want from a library,” Farwell said. “That summarizes why Otis is successful. We are not a passive organization, but an extremely proactive, dynamic one. That is what we pride ourselves on the most.”

Bassem Gayed, Otis multi-cultural services coordinator, and Cathleen Special, human resources and strategic planning manager, will accompany Farwell to the June 1 ceremony. A community member who uses the library regularly also will accompany the library officials for the presentation.

After the ceremony, StoryCorps, a national nonprofit group that records and preserves stories of Americans, will visit Otis Library to document stories from the community.

A complete list of 2016 recipients is available at www.imls.gov/2016-medals.

c.bessette@theday.com

Otis Library is a gold medal recipient for the Nation Medal for Museum and Library Service, from the Institute of Museum and Library Services, Tuesday, April 19, 2016. (Tim Martin/The Day)
Otis Library is a gold medal recipient for the Nation Medal for Museum and Library Service, from the Institute of Museum and Library Services, Tuesday, April 19, 2016. (Tim Martin/The Day)

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