Santa Ana has two finalists for national museum and library medal

Santa could come early to Santa Ana’s cultural scene this year: the Institute of Museum and Library Services announced Thursday that both the Discovery Science Center and the Santa Public Library are finalists for its 2013 National Medal for Museum and Library Service, the nation’s highest honor for community service in the two fields.

The Discovery Science Center aims to expand in the near future to a second site in the San Fernando Valley at the northern edge of Los Angeles.

Also among the 33 finalists is the Rancho Cucamonga Public Library in San Bernardino County.

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It’s mainly the honor that will count for the 10 eventual winners: the prize money is $5,000 -- down from $10,000 as recently as 2011 due to budget cuts for the federal government's cultural grant-making agencies.

The announced field has 16 libraries and 17 museums; the winners, five in each category, are expected to be announced in April, followed by an awards ceremony in Washington in May.

Hartford, Conn., and Omaha also had nominees in each category: the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art (the nation’s oldest public art museum, established in 1842) and the Hartford Public Library; and the Omaha Children’s Museum and Omaha Public Library.

A spokeswoman for the Institute of Museum and Library Services said that staff and board members of the federal agency, whose $232-million budget is larger than the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities, winnowed down more than 200 nominees to 33 finalists.

The awards began in 1994, but this is the first time finalists have been announced rather than only the winners. The change was made to expand the number of worthy institutions receiving public recognition.

In another new wrinkle, the institute has put up a new Facebook page, “Share Your Story,” that invites the public to do just that about their experiences with the finalists.

However, the stories won’t factor into the results. The institute's board of 22 presidential appointees will make its recommendations based on the applications already in hand, according to the agency. The final say is reserved for Susan Hildreth, the institute's director.

Among the other library finalists are the University of California’s California Digital Library in Oakland and municipal libraries in Cincinnati and Tacoma, Wash. Museum finalists also include the Delta Blues Museum in Clarksdale, Miss., Walters Art Museum in Baltimore and Yale University’s Peabody Museum of Natural History.

Los Angeles medalists have been the Japanese American National Museum (2010), Braille Institue Library (2009) and Simon Wiesenthal Center Library and Archives (2000). The other Southern California winner is the San Diego Zoo in 2004; the museum category includes zoos and botanical gardens.

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