Community Catalysts — Libraries and Museums
How we fund them matters because both improve communities
There are many similarities between libraries and museums. They each contain repositories of collected knowledge, seeking to educate their both local communities and visitors from afar. Each are staffed by dedicated and knowledgeable professionals who are always welcome to help you find the answers you need. They both work every day to enrich the lives of those they serve and contribute a thriving, educated community.
Senator Susan Collins from Maine once said, “From offering job search resources and free Internet access to exposing children and families to literary and educational experiences, libraries and museums serve vital roles in our communities”. However, did you know that the similarities between libraries and museums go way deeper than that? In America, both types of institution share a link all the way to the federal budget.
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The Institute of Museum and Library Services, or IMLS, is the federal agency responsible for supporting both public libraries and museums across the United States. It is their mission to “create strong libraries and museums that connect people with information and ideas”, thereby serving communities across America through the system of well-supported information and educational resources. Their method of working from the national level in coordination with state-level and local organizations allows them to “sustain resources of heritage, culture, and knowledge; enhance learning and innovation; and support professional development.”
In small towns and big cities, museums are vital to sharing the arts, extending our cultural memory, and connecting us with people we’d never otherwise have met. Every American community is stronger and more vibrant with a library at its center. Archives are at the core of preserving our heritage and amplifying our history. The Institute of Museum and Library Services is the one part of the federal government that is dedicated to supporting both of these ‘community anchors’.
The IMLS means that all types of museums — including aquariums, arboretums, art museums, botanical gardens, children’s museums,historic sites, history museums, military museums, natural history museums, nature centers, planetariums, science & technology centers, zoos, and more — can leverage federal grants to extend state and local resources in order to educate students, preserve and digitize collections, and connect families with their communities.
IMLS also means that public, academic, tribal, and (especially) state libraries can continue to innovate and explore ways to best serve all ages and stages in their communities and on their campuses. From storytime to homework help and summer reading to teaching jobs skills and supporting entrepreneurship, to programs that connect people to cultures, ideas, and enjoyment, libraries put a small amount of federal support to work in high-impact ways.
So we see now how the goal of supporting libraries and museums and supporting community development is one and the same.
How, then, should you use this knowledge to take action in support of your own community and communities across America? It is simple: by voting to support funding for your local libraries or your local museums, you have a measurable effect in strengthening those institutions, aiding your community, and giving them the position to pass on their successes through the nationwide network of libraries and museums. Through the dedicated mission of IMLS, the success of every individual library and museum is the success of libraries and museums as a whole.
In 2016, IMLS helped publish a research report on the role of libraries and museums as community catalysts. The conclusions drawn by industry experts illustrated that both libraries and museums served as a “place-based hub for members of the public to engage in informal learning, access collections for educational or aesthetic purposes, and participate in civic dialogue”. In addition to these findings, the ever-changing landscape of information media and an oftentimes murky relationship between media the truth has become ever more prevalent since 2016.
This lead to David Skorton, 13th Secretary for the Smithsonian, to state in 2017 that “museums and libraries are more relevant than ever” as providers of trusted, verifiable information in a sea of miscommunication and misdirection enabled by the free-for-all exchange of global information across the internet. There are demonstrable, measurable benefits to the presence of a library or a museum in a community, and through IMLS and their cooperation with state and local organizations, the ability to support American communities through these institutions is within your grasp.