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The Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) Facilitates an Evolving Role

May 1

Written by: Grants Office, LLC
Wednesday, May 1, 2013  RssIcon

Traditionally, the key function of museums and libraries has been the management and preservation of the collections they maintain, as well as the access of those collections to the public. Not much has changed in the important classical role of these enduring institutions, but innovations providing a much greater emphasis on public engagement and accessibility are now being embraced. This pivotal shift goes back to the 1980s when a new trend of perceived pork barrel cleansing brought on by the recession in the United States had stemmed previously generous funding. Museums and libraries were forced to reevaluate themselves and their role in communities. In redefining themselves as learning hubs, museums and libraries have been rewarded not only by reinvigorated government allocations, but by the resounding support of the public with ever increasing demand for their facilities. In the context of the information age, now more than ever museums and libraries are competing for people’s time and attention and seek to engage and broaden their prospective audience by adopting an education model over a strict conservation/repository model. This change in focus toward public engagement has continued to give rise to approaches toward administration, education, technology integration, community outreach, and new ways for these unique institutions to develop a professional staff.


The Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS), with a mission to “create strong libraries and museums that connect people to information and ideas,” serves as a model for developing this new role and aligns resources to best achieve it. IMLS in recent years prioritized programmatic activities which cater to education, community involvement, and improved stewardship. The Sparks! Ignition Grants for Libraries and Museums program funds planning projects that promise broad potential impact and significant innovation. The national Leadership Grants for Libraries and Museums for America grant programs both focus on innovative learning experiences, "development as community anchors to enhance civic engagement, cultural activities, and economic vitality," as well as improved stewardship. The Laura Bush 21st Century Librarian program develops critical skills for librarian professionals in response to the burgeoning data created through ever more productive research, the stewardship of the data through the use of technology, and meeting the information needs of an underserved population.  


Grant seekers should note that given the overarching theme of community involvement and education, stewardship of collections should move beyond an internal function toward more efficient conservation of collections. Although that is a major goal, grants to integrate technology for stewardship such as digitizing collections, should have the broader goal of bringing increased accessibility to the public for perusal, study, or interactivity. The Learning Labs in Libraries program for example created a kind of 21st century information after school resource by combing digital and traditional media in order to establish a youth learning center that brings together academics and young people's tendency for online consumption.

Given the trends, proposals that are broad in scope by improving community value, whether it be innovative educational programs, or new technology which makes information more accessible, will prove to be the most competitive.

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