Spotlight: Institute for Museum and Library Services (DC)

By Debra S. Friedmann*Screen shot 2015-10-06 at 10.34.02 AM

Combining the number of all Starbucks and McDonald’s locations will still not come close to the number of museums and libraries in all of the United States. According to the Institute of Museum and Library Services (the “IMLS” or the “Institute”), an independent government agency dedicated to the innovation and improvement of libraries and museums around the country, there are some 35,000 museums and 123,000 libraries in the U.S. These numbers are collected and reviewed biannually.

IMLS was created through the Museum and Library Services Act in 1996, an amendment to the Museum Services Act, within the National Foundation for the Arts. The Institute is currently  headed by Dr. Kathryn K. Matthew, who was recently confirmed by the senate in September 2015 for a four-year term. The President’s National Museums and Libraries Services Board advises the IMLS director on general policy and practices, in addition to selections for the National Medals for Museum and Library Service. The Institute, made up of approximately sixty employees receives funding through the federal congressional appropriations process, signed by the U.S. President.

The 114th Congress House of Representatives report on the budget for the 2016 fiscal year sought to eliminate the budget for the IMLS claiming that supporting museums and libraries is not a core federal responsibility.  The report instead puts the burden on the state and local governments to support these institutions, supplemented by charitable contributions from the private sector. President Obama on the other had requested a budget of $237,427,957 for the Institute. With much additional support from the museum and library community, including advocates from the American Museum Alliance, IMLS overcame this hurdle will be allotted funds with the completion of the 2016 budget.

One of the duties of the Institute is to distribute funds down the chain line in the form of grants. IMLS is the greatest source of primary funding from the federal government to support museums and libraries. It also administers the funds appropriated by the Library Services and Technology Act (LSTA). IMLS was developed to create a network where people can connect and share ideas. Each of these cultural institutions – libraries including public, academic, research, special and tribal, and museums including art, history, science and technology, children’s museums, historical societies, tribal museums, planetariums, botanical gardens and zoos – to some degree is supported by IMLS, whose mission is to “inspire libraries and museums to advance innovation, lifelong learning, and cultural and civic engagement.” Specifically  IMLS sets five main goals to guide research, policymaking, and grant opportunities, which include: 1) a focus on the learner as a member of the local and global community; 2) civic engagement and cultural opportunities; 3) innovation in technology to help learning; 4) advising the president on plans, policies, and activities; and 5) public management.

The Institute produces annual reports in which it highlights surveys, research, and analysis conducted by IMLS to identify trends and evaluate needs of libraries and museums.  According to the reports, the research is submitted into publications and catalogs by the agency is meant to help museums and libraries brainstorm ways to improve their institutions by learning from the successes and from successful programs as well as missteps. One such survey is the “Public Needs for Library and Museum Services Survey” (PNLMS), accessible in both English and Spanish. The survey includes information regarding  museum attendance, attitude towards going to museums and libraries, demographics of those who respond, and information on how and to what extent the family uses these institutions through a cross-sectional sample of data collected through random-digit dialing (RDD). The results of this survey were released in Spring 2015, and are often used by policymakers in federal and state government, practitioners, researchers, and journalists to learn about the outstanding needs of the public and consider how to resolve these deficiencies.

The IMLS Office of Planning, Research and Evaluation (OPRE) is a resource for data collection, publications, and evaluation resources that measure the outcome of different methodologies. All of these findings are available and shared by museums and libraries to improve their own programming in areas such as general demographics, child well-being, education, health, arts and culture, library services, economic indicators, labor and employment, and small businesses. Not only does IMLS provide the information, but it also provides the tools for museums to create their own surveys and data analysis that are specially designed to address the needs of the institution. To help measure the success of museums and libraries experimenting with innovative programs, the IMLS website also offers guides to monitor, evaluate, and analyze the results of the program. The agency recognizes that not all museums and libraries are the same, and thus the same evaluation  will not always apply to every program. IMLS provides a diverse list of methods and resources with contact information for a guide to help shape future projects.

IMLS awards grants in areas such as collections management, community engagement, conservation, formal education, informal learning, partnerships, professional development/continuing education, research, demonstration, digital collections/tools, public programs, awards, and innovation. The agency invites applicants to develop new, creative, and effective ideas to change any part of the industry.

One such grant was awarded to the Barnes Foundation in 2013, partnered with the Conservation Center for Art and Historical Artifacts in Philadelphia. The grant helped fund the conservation of 22 works of art, including five works by Paul Cézanne, five by Pablo Picasso, nine by Paul Klee, two by Edgar Degas, and one by Pierre-Auguste Renoir. Following its move from Lower Marrion to the Philadelphia Museum Mile, the Barnes Foundation has a conservation lab on site . Several of Cézanne’s sketches were newly revealed by cleaning up watercolors form under brown acidic paper. In celebration of their new findings, the Barnes foundation held an in-house display entitled Cézanne Uncovered: Two Sketches Revealed through Conservation.

Once a grant is awarded, IMLS requires the awarded institution to develop an outcome-based evaluation (OBE) procedure. The evaluation method is meant to help show the extent to which the program met its goals, progress towards long-term goals, quality of progress, need for more or fewer resources, and reiterates the importance of the program. The term “quality” is defined by each institution individually and could include categories such as efficiency, productivity, cost control, effectiveness, and value to the community.

These OBEs are submitted to Congress as required by the Government Performance and Results Act of 1993. The purpose of this review is to keep the federal government informed about the programs they fund and to try to identify areas of inefficiency and overspending. Institutions are therefore accountable to the federal government for the funding they receive. The efficient funding of these grants contribute to the overall goal of IMLS, which is to create strong libraries and museums and to connect these institutions so that successful programming can spread further. IMLS creates a database for all members of museums and libraries to see which programs worked, which did not, and how they may implement a completely new idea.

IMLS also takes applications for grant peer reviewers. After IMLS receives a complete application for a grant, the application is reviewed by volunteers with comparable expertise. According to the review process program instructions, each application is reviewed approximately three to six times. The reviewers submit comments answering the questions IMLS provides for evaluation. IMLS then makes the final funding decisions using these comments to further inform its decisions.

Under the new leadership of Dr. Matthew, the Institute is poised to become less of a mystery. For those interested in exploring the employment opportunities with IMLS, there are paid internships available to law, library and public policy students.

Sources:

*About the Author: Debra Friedmann is a second-year law student at the Georgetown University Law Center. She received a B.A. in History and Studio Art from Brandeis University. She may be reached at dsfriedmann@gmail.com.

Disclaimer:  This article is for educational purposes only and is not meant to provide legal advice. Readers are not meant to act or rely on the information in this article without attorney consultation.

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