Champaign’s Fire Service Institute Library named finalist for national award

Devid Ehrenhart, archivist and metadata librarian, goes in depth about the contents of the archive at the Illinois Fire Service Institute Library on Tuesday.

By Robin Dean

Champaign’s Illinois Fire Service Institute Library, IFSI, has been selected as one of 30 finalists to compete for the National Medal for Museum and Library Service award, which goes toward museums and libraries that aim to meaningfully impact their community.

“The award is the country’s highest honor for library and museum institutions that make significant and exceptional contributions to their communities,” said Giuliana Bullard, public affairs officer for the Institute of Museum and Library Services.

The award began 21 years ago by the Institute of Museum Services as a way to honor American museums; however, the organization began including libraries in 2000. Since its inception, 142 institutions have received the award. The qualities they seek for winners are financially stable libraries and museums that not only display the desire to improve their community but take action.

“We look for candidates to show an understanding of the community they serve and the community’s needs, that their programs and services address community needs and show the impact and quality of their programs, services and partnerships,” Bullard explained.

Lian Ruan, director of the library, said it exists to complement the IFSI mission in helping firefighters do their job through training, information, education and research.

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“The IFSI Library’s mission is to provide fire and emergency library and information assistance and services to the Institute’s instructional staff, students, Illinois fire departments, firefighters and other fire/emergency-related users in the successful and effective performance of their duties,” Ruan said.

Beginning as an in-house library in 1990, the library joined the Lincoln Trails Library System in 1998, a regional library system developed by the Illinois State Library. It is through this system that firefighters, no matter where they live, can loan materials out from the library.

With more than $250,000 invested in a series of grant projects by the Illinois State library, public librarians are able to teach firefighters how to utilize the public library system in an efficient manner, Ruan said.

The library offers a wide variety of services that strengthen firefighters’ knowledge. They range from databases to user training workshops or classes taught by librarians.

“We have taken a proactive approach to provide traditional and innovative services to meet firefighters’ unique information needs,” Ruan said. “The IFSI Library is the only fire science dedicated library with the largest fire and emergency response collection in Illinois, and one of the top two state fire academy libraries in the nation.”

Another important aspect of the library is the Firefighter Line of Duty Deaths Digital Image Collection Database. It archives 869 Illinois firefighters who have died in the line of duty within the past 150 years. It not only serves as a memorial, but also gives others the opportunity to learn from previous misfortunes, Ruan said.

The database has also led to the creation of the Illinois Firefighter Medal of Honor and Medal of Valor Database, which documents 219 Illinois firefighters who have received these awards.

Ruan said the medals are the highest awards granted to firefighters in Illinois.

Ruan said that before the database, there were no ways to recognize the recipients, which made “it difficult to properly honor and learn from these heroic actions.”

Not only does the library have a well-developed archive, it also has contributed to the collections of the Main Library on campus. It has supplied 54 publications to the Main Library’s Illinois Digital Environment for Access to Learning and Scholarship.

“While the IFSI Library is not part of the University’s Main Library system, it has benefited tremendously from the Main Library in many ways. Examples include professional development, collection development and much more,” Ruan said.

In addition to its influence on campus, the library has made an even greater impact on the IFSI. Royal Mortenson, director of the IFSI, believes the library is an essential component to their purpose.

“(Our mission) is to ensure firefighters have access to information that will enhance their education and their training,” Mortenson said.

Last year, the IFSI trained and educated over 61,000 students through its programs. With there being more than 1,100 fire departments in the state of Illinois, the IFSI trained 941 of them in some way, shape or form that same year.

Mortenson said that the library has contributed to the success of the IFSI because those in training frequently use it.

“Firefighters know we are the State Fire Training Academy. They also know that we’ve got a great library and archive of information to help them be better firefighters,” Mortensen said. “Our impact is growing both on the state level and obviously on a national level, which is clearly shown by this recent nomination.”

He said he also believes that the library has made significant repercussions that have benefited the community as a whole.

“Through servicing firefighters and their education, we think it’s a direct link to the community because it helps make better firefighters, and they will make better decisions,” Mortensen said.

Being a finalist, the IFSI library continues to work toward excellence by tailoring everything they do to the user’s needs.

“Libraries (in the 21st century) are no longer going to be reliable if they are simply just a building down the street and you go there to look for a book,” Mortenson said. “They’ve got to make their systems available to their customers and always change with the needs of their constituency. This Institute Library does that, and I think that is worthy of recognition.”

Mortensen added that although its target audience may be those in training, anyone interested in fire science and fire service is encouraged to utilize the library’s archives.

Ruan enjoys her work because the library impacts the Champaign community.

“I’m so proud of my Institute leaders and colleagues. There have been so many people who have lent their hands along the way,” Ruan said. “I feel that I’m one of the luckiest librarians in the world.”

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