NORMAN — The Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History has been named one of 10 recipients of this year’s National Medal for Museum and Library Service.
The award from the Institute of Museum and Library Sciences is the nation’s highest honor given to museums and libraries for service to the community.
Museum officials said they will accept the award May 8 in a ceremony at the White House.
“This prestigious national award confirms that our museum is one of the most important university-based natural history museums in our nation and, indeed, in the world,” said University of Oklahoma President David L. Boren. “As Oklahomans, we are privileged to have it in our state.”
The Sam Noble museum was founded in 1899 by the Territorial Legislature of the future state of Oklahoma and located on the OU campus. In 1987, the museum was designated as the state’s natural history museum.
In May 2000, the museum opened a new 198,000-square-foot structure that has welcomed 2.1 million visitors since that time. The museum houses more than 10 million objects organized into 12 collections from Native American Languages to Genomic Resources.
“The Sam Noble museum is proud to be selected for this national honor. We share this award with the people of Oklahoma who made this museum and its programs possible and who continue to support us in every way,” said museum director Michael Mares.
Ernesto Vargas, 19, of Oklahoma City, said the museum and its programs helped him decide what he wanted to do with his life.
As a seventh-grader, Vargas was introduced to science through the museum’s ExplorOlogy program. He later participated in other programs at the museum, including a summer adventure camp that involved digging up and identifying fossils.
Today, he is a student at the University of Chicago majoring in geology and paleontology. Vargas has been selected to accompany museum officials to the White House ceremony to share the impact the museum has made on his life.
Mares said the museum strives to provide unique programs that benefit young people from across Oklahoma, as well as adults.
The museum’s 55,000-square-feet of exhibits and galleries trace Oklahoma’s history back more than a billion years, Mares said.
Educational programs such as Meet the Dinosaurs, Web of Life and ExplorOlogy inspire thousands of students on field trips each year, he said.
The museum’s long history of public programs includes annual community events such as Science in Action/Object ID Day, Spring Break Escape, Eggstravaganza, Holiday Happening and the annual Oklahoma Native American Youth Language Fair.
Beginning in 2008, the museum launched Free First Mondays and, in 2010, became a participant in the Blue Star Museum Program to offer free admission to military personnel and their families.
Winners of the National Medal were selected from nationwide nominations of institutions that demonstrate innovative approaches to public service, exceeding the expected levels of community outreach, said Susan H. Hildreth, director of the Institute of Museum and Library Sciences.
First Lady Michelle Obama will present the medals to the 10 winners — five museums and five libraries — May 8 at the White House. After the ceremony, StoryCorps — a national nonprofit dedicated to recording, preserving and sharing stories of Americans — will visit the Sam Noble museum to document community stories.