Digging into the IMLS Strategic Plan

The Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) has been an essential resource for libraries and library schools since its inception over two decades ago. According to its mission statement, this agency works “to advance, support, and empower America’s museums, libraries, and related organizations through grant-making, research, and policy development.” On the ground, the work supported by the IMLS takes the form of anything from STEAM programming to data-rich research projects. “Transforming Communities,” the recently published 2018-2022 IMLS Strategic Plan, reviews specific successes and focuses on broader strategies to lead us into the next few years. Certain aspects of the plan—approaches to learning and literacy, library engagement statistics, and serving the under-served—might be of particular interest to library staff who work with youth.

The Road So Far

In its introduction, the Strategic Plan cites information literacy as a determinant of success in today’s society. The landscape of learning is shifting, as we know, and the IMLS strives to support museums and libraries as they “inspire the pursuit of new information, encourage a spirit of inquiry, and build collective knowledge for our nation.” Proof of these efforts can be found in some of the groundbreaking projects highlighted in the plan:

  • STEMeX: In 2016, the IMLS awarded $2.2 million to four institutions using design-based research to create and investigate experimental STEM programming. More specifically, these funds supported programming led by STEM experts, designed for children (ages 6-10) and their families.
  • Museums Empowered: On March 1st of this year, applications closed for a Museums for America (MFA) project supporting professional development for museum staff. An especially exciting aspect of Museums Empowered is its aim to address community issues through the lenses of Digital Technology and Diversity and Inclusion.

These projects display an understanding that learning is a process that takes many different forms, and that instances of learning often occur beyond the walls of a classroom. Supporting growth through hands-on and self-directed learning is clearly marked as a priority, as is community engagement.

Throughout the plan, the IMLS sprinkles several hopeful statistics, including the following:

  • More than 171 million people in the United States have library cards.
  • Over 99% of public libraries in the United States offer free internet access.
  • 81% of people in the U.S. have visited a public library or bookmobile.
  • Children who visited a museum during kindergarten had higher achievement scores in reading, mathematics, and science in third grade than children who did not.

The Road Ahead

The Strategic Plan focuses on four broad goals, each with distinct objectives within their scope:

  • Promoting Lifelong Learning: Support multiple literacies (including civic literacy, digital literacy, and media literacy); encourage inquiry-based learning across disciplines and institutions; and promote equity through continuous learning.
  • Building Capacity: Perpetuate the notion that libraries are “trusted spaces for community engagement and dialogue.”
  • Increasing Public Awareness: Use new technologies to engage patrons from varying contexts and confront barriers to access.
  • Achieving Excellence: Adapt to trends and evolving needs; develop awards and grants to more effectively engage with communities; and engage with new partners and organizations to “promote the public value of…libraries.”

In the next five years, the IMLS will actively support programming that works to build cross-cultural awareness and collaboration, and will continue to encourage efforts aimed at multiple literacies. Using the “library as a trusted source of information,” the agency hopes to promote more conversations between institutions and within the communities they serve. The IMLS will foster these exchanges, with the intent that open and frequent communications will contribute to a more inclusive and equitable society. In addition, the agency will continue to find ways to more effectively use the wide array of digital resources and technologies available to institutions at large, to library staff as educators, and to our individual users. Clearly, examining the many facets of learning, promoting multiple literacies, and engaging with community efforts are all being prioritized by the IMLS.

Through an engaging combination of grand goals and specific objectives, the 2018-2022 IMLS Strategic Plan offers an exciting look into the future of federal support and funding for museums and libraries!  Every state and U.S. territory receives funding for libraries from IMLS.  To find out how IMLS funds are used in your state, download this free report (.pdf).


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