Patchogue-Medford Library officials said the prize - the nation's highest such honor - validates their efforts to make the facility a critical resource for the entire community.
The 2010 National Medal for Museum and Library Service comes with a check for $10,000 and was given to 10 recipients, including The New York Botanical Garden.
"We are still kind of floating on air," Patchogue-Medford Library director Dina McNeece Chrils said in an interview after the ceremony. "It was the event of a lifetime. You get up every morning and do what you love and when someone notices on the national level that you're doing this, it is absolutely surreal."
The Institute of Museum and Library Services, which selected Patchogue-Medford for the honor, lauded the facility for its work with immigrants such as Zheni Velasquez, who emigrated from Ecuador in 1991.
Velasquez, 48, of Patchogue, was a teacher in her home country but had to clean houses when she came to the United States. She took English language classes at the library and eventually had the confidence to start pursuing a college degree.
A citizen since 2004, Velasquez now teaches Spanish at a Bay Shore community center. She said the library changed her life.
"I took advantage of the courses they had," said Velasquez, who attended the ceremony and chatted with the first lady. "They gave me a tutor so I could learn one-on-one. It helped me a lot."
The Institute also credited the library for its role in helping the community heal after the 2008 stabbing death of Ecuadorean immigrant Marcelo Lucero.