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LEONARD ORTIZ, ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER
A file photo shows kids and adults visiting the Discovery Science Center. Museum officials hope to bring annual attendance up to 1 million with planned improvements.
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Science museum and library up for national honor

Science museum, library up for big honor

ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER

SANTA ANA – Two Orange County institutions of learning – the Discovery Science Center and the Santa Ana Public Library – stepped into a national spotlight Thursday when they were named finalists for the National Medal for Museum and Library Services.

The National Medal is the nation's highest honor conferred on museums and libraries for community service. With it comes a $5,000 award. Ten winners will be announced in April, and an award ceremony will occur in Washington, D.C. in May.

"This is a huge honor for us," said Lynn D. Nguyen, Santa Ana's principal librarian for technology and support services. "We really want to let the community what type of services we offer. And this is great – to let the community know the library is there to help them."

Joe Adams, president of Discovery Science Center, said the museum, too, was honored.

"It is our hope that the work we do inspires and serves as a powerful demonstration of the impact engaging science education can have on a community," he said, "and especially the next generation."

The Institute of Museum and Library Services, a federal agency, announced 33 finalists nationally for the medal. More than 200 libraries and museums were nominated.

"In the 21st century, the role of libraries and museums has become that of community anchors, as common gathering places – venues that are trusted, open to all," said Susan Hildreth, its director. "They provide so much context to our lives and history and culture – both of these institutions (libraries and museums) really represent the heart of our communities."

A National Medal, she said, lends prestige to institutions honored, and places them on a stronger footing to receive further funding.

According to Dan Nasitka, manager of public relations at the Discovery Science Center, its nomination was based on excellence in community outreach, hosting blockbuster traveling exhibits, commitment to quality guest service, and partnerships with public agencies on environmental awareness.

Nasitka pointed out community partnerships, educational outreach and the exhibit called "EcoChallenge" as specific reasons for the nomination. "EcoChallenge" is a partnership with OC Waste and Recycling.

The nonprofit Discovery Science Center is planning a $62 million expansion and upgrade of its current Santa Ana facility. Ground-breaking for the first phase is expected this summer, with an opening date planned for November 2014.

It is also planning to take over the former Children's Museum of Los Angeles and open in its place Discovery Science Center-Los Angeles by 2015.

The center has secured $22.8 million in funding and financing for the project. Discovery Science Center-LA will be in a 58,000 square-foot building in the San Fernando Valley that was never completed.

At Santa Ana Public Library, Nguyen said its array of services make it stand out, including computer classes for adults and children, an after-school program known as TeenSpace and tutoring.

The library also provides content for municipal Channel 3. Under a Workforce Investment Act grant, the library trains high school students to produce videos, which are also posted on the library's website.

Among the recipients last year of the National Medal was the Contra Costa County Public Library – the only California recipient in 2012.

"It's the top of the mountain," said Barbara L. Flynn, county librarian, whose career includes service at the Anaheim Public Library and OC Public Libraries. "It raises the awareness of the library and the things the library does in your community...And it puts the library in a national spotlight. People will say, 'Oh, yes, Contra Costa. That's quite a library.'"

The award led the Board of Supervisors and two cities to honor the library with resolutions, she said. Even a nomination is an honor, she said, recognizing a library for its body of work.

The Discovery Science Center was the only California museum named a finalist this year. Two other California libraries are in the running - the UC California Digital Library in Oakland and the Rancho Cucamonga Public Library.

Contact the writer: 714-796-6999 or rgonzales@ocregister.com


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