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Happy Anniversary, IMLS

IMLS 20 Years: Reimagine the FutureAs the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) marks its 20th anniversary this year, we celebrate the many ways it has enabled libraries and librarians around the country to transform their communities by funding innovative programs and research.

  • Thanks to the support of IMLS, people in communities around the country are being served by library professionals in new and unique ways:
    Community college students in Springfield, Mass., can borrow Chromebooks and mobile Internet hotspots to conduct research, complete assignments and take exams.
  • Patrons at Baltimore County Public Library’s new Center of Excellence for Business can attend – in person or remotely – a series of economic forums on investing and interest rates, grant writing, minority business opportunities and youth entrepreneurship.
  • Thousands of middle schoolers can participate in college and career readiness programs and eLearning modules developed by a pilot group of more than 80 library staff members from small, rural libraries around the country.
  • 100 library professionals from multiple sectors will attend a forum to address the development and implementation of a national strategy for born-digital news preservation.
  • Library professionals can pursue graduate and doctoral level degrees and conduct research that advances the profession.
  • State libraries can assist their local library systems a number of ways, from designing and enhancing science learning spaces to building and delivering digital resource collections to serving special populations.

These are just a few of the opportunities that IMLS has opened up to libraries of all types through their grant programs. Since its creation through the Museum and Library Services Act in 1996, IMLS has grown to serve as the primary government support agency for tens of thousands of libraries around the nation. Over the past 20 years, it has provided more than $3.5 billion in grants to states and individual library programs. It has also strengthened relationships between libraries and museums to form a network with the common mission “to advance innovation, lifelong learning and cultural and civic engagement.”

But IMLS is more than a funding mechanism for libraries and museums: it is also a Washington success story. What sets it apart from numerous other U.S. agencies that award grants is how it awards them. IMLS has developed the reputation for being a model government program for its peer-juried grantee selection process. Its transparent, outcomes-oriented planning and evaluation system for administering funding and publicizing research results assures effective, replicable programs and has won IMLS strong bipartisan support in Congress.

IMLS also promotes the importance of American libraries and supports collaboration with other Federal stakeholders. Because of IMLS’s visibility in Washington, libraries have a voice in critical debates that affect national policies. In addition to its historic connection with the Department of Education and the Department of Health, Education and Welfare, IMLS partners with governmental organizations such as the Department of Labor to encourage additional collaboration between the workforce investment system and libraries. With the Department of Homeland Security, IMLS provides citizenship awareness programs to new Americans through U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. To further showcase the value of libraries, library professionals and museums, each year IMLS recognizes 10 institutions with the National Medal for Museum and Library Service for outstanding service to their communities, an honor that was bestowed this year by First Lady Michelle Obama in a White House Ceremony.

Text from tweet: "Big congratulations to @US_IMLS on 20 years of serving and empowering libraries and museums! #IMLSat20"
How has an IMLS grant helped your institution and changed your community? To share your story, email IMLS will post stories throughout the next year to share the great work that museums and libraries are doing.

IMLS does a superb job of representing libraries and supporting innovative programs that transform the lives of millions of people who walk through our doors every day. IMLS can do that work and get the funding it needs because Congress periodically reauthorizes the original (1996) Museum and Library Services Act. It’s time for Congress to renew that important legislation again, and library champions in the Senate have introduced a bill (S. 3391) to do that. With just a few weeks remaining after the November elections to get it passed, we need as many other senators as possible to co-sponsor the Museum and Library Services Act of 2016.

What better way to celebrate 20 years of IMLS’s leadership than by advocating for library funding? Click here to join thousands of ALA members in support of vital IMLS funding by emailing or calling your senator to request that they co-sponsor the Museum and Library Services Act of 2016.

Happy 20th Anniversary, IMLS – we look forward to many more!

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Julie Todaro

Dr. Julie Todaro is a past president of the American Library Association (2016-2017). Previously, she served as the president of the Association of College and Research Libraries (2007-2008) and president of the Texas Library Association (2000-2001). Todaro received her Doctorate of Library Services from Columbia University and her Masters of Library and Information Science from the University of Texas at Austin.

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