Libraries, Museums, and a Diverse America
Since 1996, the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) has supported libraries and museums across the United States, helping these organizations transform the lives of individuals and communities through grantmaking, research, and policy development.
The IMLS celebrates our nation’s diversity by offering vital assistance to organizations that support libraries in every state and territory, Native Americans, people with disabilities, and other populations like veterans. By supporting a welcoming and inclusive vision of America, the IMLS embodies the spirit of the traditional U.S. motto e pluribus unum — a Latin phrase meaning “out of many, one.”
Libraries and museums are two of the most popular institutions in modern American society.
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In addition to serving the general public, libraries and museums offer programs and services which assist special populations in the United States, such as veterans and military families. Community Salute is an IMLS initiative aimed at strengthening the ability of libraries, archives, and museums to respond to the needs of the nation’s 22 million veterans. Public libraries help veterans transition to civilian life by helping them build community connections, find initial employment and develop job skills, and preserve their overall health and wellness.
Libraries also host support groups for veterans and their families and partner with local veterans organizations to provide outreach services in a safe and trusted community space. Museums have helped veterans find their voice through programs such as art therapy — which has been linked with positive outcomes in treating soldiers with combat-related PTSD and traumatic brain injuries — and dedicated exhibition space to explore the human impact of war and allow veterans to tell their own stories.
The Native American community is also served by libraries and museums. In addition to the roles that public libraries play in early childhood literacy and jobs skills training, tribal libraries play a vital role in fostering the cultural life of Native American peoples and the teaching, learning, and preservation of endangered indigenous languages as well. To this end the IMLS offers a special program offering basic grants to support Native American library services.
Likewise, the IMLS supports tribal museums — through a 2006 grant from the IMLS, the National Association of Tribal Historic Preservation Officers were able to create the National Native Museum Training Program, which offers formal training in museum management and administration to tribal museum staff and creates leadership opportunities for current and future tribal museum personnel. Thanks in part to the IMLS, tribal libraries and museums are able to thrive rather than worrying about simply how to survive.
Libraries and museums are open and welcoming places to patrons with disabilities and other special needs as well. The IMLS promotes accessibility in libraries and museums, encouraging organizations to shape their programs, collections, and facilities to be as widely accessible as possible and challenging them to think proactively about inclusion and community. The IMLS also works internationally to promote access for the blind and visually-impared by advocating for copyright exceptions that allow for the development of special format materials which can be used by people with print disabilities.
In light of the fact that 1 in 68 American children has autism or Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), museums have been working in recent years to provide better accommodations for people with autism, who prove to be not only regular and loyal visitors but excellent volunteers and staff members as well. Public libraries are also working to better serve patrons with autism — Targeting Autism is a two-phase project created by the Illinois State Library and funded by the IMLS to explore how libraries can work to support patrons and family members impacted by autism and ASD.
The United States is a country whose diversity has always been one of its greatest sources of strength.
- More than 850 million people visit museums in the United States every year (source)
- Over 4 million Americans visit their local public library every day (source)
- More Americans visit museums and libraries annually than they attend major league sporting events, theme parks, and movies combined (source)
The IMLS recognizes that libraries and museums are for all Americans, and helps support these organizations in their ability to serve not only the general public but all of the special populations that make up our nation as well. From promoting access and inclusion for everyone to respecting and amplifying our many diverse voices, the IMLS celebrates American greatness by lifting all of us up.