Libraries are a High-Impact Solution to a Lot of Covid-Era Problems
Libraries and museums across the nation have felt the impact of the pandemic. Doors have closed, new social distancing measures have been implemented, and these institutions have worked tirelessly to continue serving patrons while under stress from the virus. The Institute of Museums and Libraries (IMLS) stepped in with a new legislative mandate that made an additional $50,000,000 in grant funding available to help prepare for and respond to the virus. This funding was meant to help expand digital network access, purchase internet-accessible devices, and provide technical support services.
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With the help of these funds, many museums and libraries were able to create new initiatives while supporting their everyday operations. Thousands of applicants applied for grant funding and millions of dollars were distributed to museums and libraries that demonstrated their need. Submissions included proposals that covered everything from staff training to virtual programming to reopening plans. IMLS CARES Act funding was able to fill the gaps by providing this high-impact solution for museums and libraries facing COVID-era problems.
The Institute of Museums and Libraries
The Institute of Museum and Library sciences is an independent federal agency that supports museums and libraries in the country through grants, policy development, and research. It was created in 1996 and has made it its mission to inspire libraries and museums to transform the lives of individuals and communities. With their work, the IMLS hopes to promote learning, build and strengthen the capacity of libraries and museums, and increase public access to resources. The IMLS strategically aligns its resources and relationships to aid libraries and museums.
There are several grants being awarded every year that libraries and museums can apply for. These grants are expansive in what they cover and were created to accommodate different sizes and types of projects and institutions. A few of these include museum grants for African American history and culture, leadership grants for libraries, grants for small museums, and many others. A full list can be found on the IMLS website.
CARES Act Funding
The CARES Act funding was specifically created to support museums and libraries responding to the pandemic in ways that meet the immediate and future COVID-19 needs of their communities. Applications were evaluated on three criteria. These included:
- High impact. The proposed projects needed to address problems created or exacerbated by the pandemic.
- Immediate Implementation. Institutions needed to create a timeline that would show how the project would immediately address needs of the community impacted by the pandemic.
- Shareable results. The project needed to have resources and tools that could be adapted by other institutions in other communities.
Requests for funding could fall anywhere between $25,000 and $500,000 and no project categories were created which means museums and libraries had a variety of ways they could use the grant funding. Projects they could apply the support towards included but were not limited to staffing, reopening, trusted spaces, infrastructure, equipment, and training, digital learning, content management and delivery, discoverability, optimizing resources, new media tools, innovative methodologies, and collaboration. More information on the IMLS CARES Act can be found at their recorded webinar.
Many of the projects that museums and libraries requested funding for have been highlighted on the IMLS blog. These stories spotlight different ways the grants have supported pandemic efforts and offer insight into how the virus has affected institutions across the country.
Digital access became one of the most crucial issues to tackle during the pandemic. With spaces closing down, this really limited where people could go to use the internet, computers, and other technology. The pandemic revealed how bad the digital gap actually was and how it affected everyone from students learning to adults applying for jobs to seniors learning new skills.
Georgia chief SLAA officers aided students with remote learning by using funds to buy laptops for libraries to loan out to K-12 and college students. They also included hotspot purchases in their plan and supplemented this with purchasing online platforms like Beanstack to facilitate virtual summer reading.
In Colorado, those in charge of distributing grant funds also had the same thought process. They also purchased hotspots, Chromebooks, tablets, and e-readers to lend to patrons. They focused their efforts on creating a robust collection of online tools and materials to help those who were stuck at home access resources. Funds were distributed according to needs-based IMLS funding priorities. According to the IMLS interview featuring state librarian Nicolle Davies, they determined this by looking “at poverty rates, SNAP information, unemployment statistics, and broadband availability.”
Libraries and museums have also used the funds as a way to provide much-needed resources for native and tribal communities. These initiatives help keep languages and cultures alive while also supporting under-resourced areas.
There are four tribal college libraries in Minnesota that received funding consideration and were given $25,000 each to improve access. The librarians and SLAA officers noted that tribal colleges tend to have more adult learners and that students were usually supporting families and their family’s education.
The Northern Mariana Islands also committed funds to sponsor the local Native community and culture. The Friends of the Joeten-Kiyu Public Library provided PPE while also providing cultural classes that touched on topics such as fishing with a Talaya and their native language, Chamorro. Combining library services with vital cultural preservation initiatives was an important aspect of combatting the effects of the pandemic.
While the focus was on supporting individual institutions, the CARES Act funding also gave institutions the opportunity to develop new relationships with others in the community. Strengthening bonds and forming new connections and collaborations is essential when it comes to tackling the pandemic and serving the community.
In North Carolina, the State Library Administrative Agencies (SLAAs) distributed funds through two types of opportunities. The first was for smaller-scale projects like buying Wi-Fi hotspots or technology to lend out. The second was for larger, more involved projects and the requirement was that these projects needed to be a new partnership. These project grants were available to public libraries, community college libraries, as well as university libraries.
Delaware also had similar thoughts in mind when distributing funds. One of their top priorities has always been their partnerships and they used this opportunity to deepen pre-existing relationships. A few examples of organizations and people in the community they would partner with included social workers from Delaware Health and Social Services and employment specialists from the Department of Labor. These previously onsite services were made virtual after the start of the pandemic.
IMLS Changing Communities
The grants provided by the IMLS have been impactful since they were created. Throughout the years, thousands of institutions have applied for funding and were able to do meaningful work for their communities. The COVID-19 pandemic was an unexpected road bump that has uprooted lives across the country. However, with the support of the CARES Act, the IMLS and the museums and libraries it supports can continue to make impacts on patrons.