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updated: 5/3/2013 9:03 AM

First lady to honor Waukegan library

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  • First lady Michelle Obama will present an award to the Waukegan Public Library on Wednesday at the White House.

    First lady Michelle Obama will present an award to the Waukegan Public Library on Wednesday at the White House.
    Associated Press


Being honored nationally for exceptional contributions to the community is one thing, but having first lady Michelle Obama bestow the award has amplified the excitement for members of the Waukegan Public Library.

"Ray Bradbury would be proud of us," library board President Charmaine Harris said of the famous late author who grew up in Waukegan.

Harris will be among a contingent of library representatives traveling to Washington, D.C., next week to be honored by the Institute of Museum and Library Services as one of 10 recipients of the 2013 National Medal for Museum and Library Service. It is the nation's highest honor given to museums and libraries for service to the community.

Mrs. Obama and Susan Hildreth, director of the institute, will present the awards Wednesday in the East Room at the White House.

"It's a wonderful honor not only for us as part of the library community, but for the city as a whole," said Harris, a house principal at Waukegan High School.

The Waukegan library is being recognized for its "fresh, effective approaches" to promoting literacy." The city has a Hispanic population three times larger than the state average, and the library has developed an array of programs to help residents build communications skills and help learners be successful, according to the institute.

While the itinerary had been set about a week ago, the first lady's participation was confirmed Thursday.

First ladies have participated in the past, and it's something the institute strives for each year, said Rena Morrow, marketing, programming and exhibits manager for the Waukegan Public Library.

"It's still very cool," she said. "Now it makes it extra special to go."

Other Waukegan library representatives attending are: Richard Lee, executive director; Elizabeth Stearns, assistant director of community services; Carmen Patlan, community engagement and outreach manager; and Diana Alvey, who volunteers as a community ambassador and ESL tutor.

Harris on Thursday said she had been sharing the news with students, teachers and others.

"This will definitely become a teachable moment for us," says Harris, who has been to Washington, D.C., several times as a tourist but never as a VIP. Students can learn everyone has potential to reach the highest levels of their endeavors, she added.

"I'm ecstatic," she said. "The library will be represented, this area will be represented. It's a major, major accomplishment."

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