November 23, 2017

“All Eyes on IMLS”: Priorities for 2015 | ALA Midwinter 2015

IMLS_Logo_2cEager to promote strategic priorities for 2015, officials for the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) trained a spotlight on the various federal funding resources available through the Library Services and Technology Act (LSTA) during a recent American Library Association (ALA) Midwinter session in Chicago. At a talk entitled, “All Eyes on IMLS: Funding Priorities and Reauthorization,” IMLS Acting Director Maura Marx and Robin Dale, the associate deputy director for state programs, outlined the scope and focus of LSTA’s grants to states and other discretionary spending for libraries.

A priority for 2015, Marx told the audience, will be the Congressional reauthorization of the Museum and Library Services Act (MLSA), which in turn authorizes both the LSTA and the Museum Services Act (MSA). The MLSA, which allows the IMLS to exist as the independent federal agency for libraries and museums, was last passed in 2010 and must be readopted by both houses of Congress and signed by President Obama by Sept. 30, 2016.

standing up FOR MLSA

The reauthorization of the MLSA by the 2016 deadline, as Marx discussed at the ALA session, is a major concern for IMLS in the coming year. The president’s proposed FY16 federal budget contains a $9.6 million increase for IMLS over the FY15 enacted total of $227.9 million, with much of that increase targeted for the national digital platform initiative.

The MLSA established IMLS when it was first passed by Congress in 1996. The act was reauthorized in 2003 and again in 2010. Reauthorization, Marx explained, is a Congressional oversight process in which lawmakers will review the MLSA, measure its effectiveness, and consider changes before approving (or denying) the necessary appropriations. This legislation, in theory, will also extend the law for a fixed or indefinite period. The House Committee on Education and the Workforce and the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions will do the primary work early in the process.

Any changes these lawmakers adopt, Marx noted, could naturally alter IMLS’s priorities and goals. So the agency’s ongoing mission will be to increase public awareness of how effectively the MLSA is working. A pilot program of 16 states will begin reporting outcomes and evaluations of IMLS funding work by December 2015, with all 50 states, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands reporting into the system in 2016. This data will also be made available in order that the public can see the effectiveness of various programs, and libraries can better work with LSTA.

The response to IMLS’s work, Marx said, has been very positive. She hoped president Obama’s 2016 budget would demonstrate the administration’s interest as well, adding, “We exist so good work can happen in libraries across the country.”

2015 PRIORITIES

Of the total $227.8 million budgeted for IMLS in federal FY15, about $180 million (79 percent) will go for LSTA services. Grants to State Library Administrative Agencies are by far the largest slice of the LSTA pie, budgeted at $154,848,000 in FY15.

LSTA grants pay for more than 2,500 projects each year, comprising a varied mix of services and initiatives. “Stakeholders want freedom to meet their community learning needs,” Marx told the audience. “IMLS wants to help them with that rather than dictate what they should be doing.”

These include by-now traditional efforts such as access to electronic databases and ebooks, computer instruction, early literacy programs, summer reading programs, digitization of special collections, civic engagement, bookmobile services, and outreach to underserved populations.

Among the latest LSTA funding priorities are activities that promote STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) and STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art, and mathematics) learning programs, including learning labs, 3D printers, software, and other technology initiatives, including statewide collaborations to build digital “hubs.”

There are also competitive grants awarded on the basis of merit and a dedication to causes IMLS has deemed critical. At the ALA session, Marx and Dale emphasized IMLS’s two main priorities for 2015: Learning in Libraries and a National Digital Platform. IMLS will field competitive grant proposals in these areas with about $26 million available overall.

Early learning, STEM learning, maker spaces in libraries, and workforce-adult learning were the four main components included under the Learning in Libraries umbrella.

The National Digital Platform, meanwhile, is the entire system that provides digital services to people and companies across the United States. It exists today, Marx said at ALA, as a set of disconnected components that must be brought together into an effective infrastructure. This mission aligns with President Obama’s stated goal to bring high-speed broadband connection to all libraries and schools.

Marx said at ALA, “This is the moment in time for a national digital platform.… What we’ve seen is that there’s a lot of disparate work going on. We’d like to have a mechanism to pull that together into a grid.”

The new competitive grant application process has been revised, and begins with a simple two-page proposal subject to peer panel review. Selected applicants will then be invited to submit a full proposal followed by more peer review.

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