Through block grants to states and grants to individual libraries, the federally funded Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) supports a variety of library-based education and conservation projects. Funded at just over $197 million in FY 2000, the agency is perceived as an important component of the effort to eliminate the “digital divide” and has received bipartisan support. President Clinton has proposed an increase in funding to more than $206 million for FY 2001.

“As we usher in the 21st century, libraries and museums are responding to dramatic advances in technology, increasing diversity in our populations, and growing demands for learning throughout a lifetime,” said Acting Director Beverly Sheppard. “The needs and expectations of the American public are different than they were even five years ago. This change requires investment.”

Indeed, IMLS is directing that investment toward projects that enable libraries to serve as high-tech educational resources. Clinton’s budget proposal lays this out explicitly by stating as its two priorities for IMLS “increasing technological access to museum and library resources for all Americans” and “building community partnerships to address serious and persistent community needs.”

IMLS was established by Congress in 1996 to coordinate grant-making activities previously performed separately by the Institute of Museum Services and the Department of Education. “It made sense to bring our activities together,” said Eileen Maxwell, IMLS spokesperson. “It’s been hugely successful so far.”

As the agency becomes more comfortable with its role in leading library grant initiatives, IMLS is working to expand its partnerships to broaden the scope of what a successful library can do. IMLS now collaborates with the National Science Foundation, the National Park Service, and the Smithsonian Institution, as well as the private sector, to create a Digital Library of Education. “This effort will bring cultural and educational resources to the public,” said Sheppard.

Getting grants

School librarians, media center specialists, and district administrators have two avenues through which they can seek grants: state programs and IMLS’s National Leadership Awards Program.

State programs: The state programs represent about two-thirds of the grants that IMLS provides, and they are distributed according to a formula based on state population. Use of these grants is left completely in the hands of state library agencies—a resource with which most library professionals already are familiar, Maxwell said. To find out how much money each state has received, go to IMLS’s extensive web site at

Priorities for the state programs, as outlined in the Library Services and Technology Act that created IMLS, are using technology for information sharing between libraries and between libraries and other community services. Programs that make library resources more accessible to urban, rural, or low-income residents or others who have difficulty using library services also are a priority. After-school programs, including those held in conjunction with schools or community centers, have been funded by several states under this program. Projects that provide lifetime learning opportunities, particularly for parents of Head Start children, also have been supported in the past few years.

Grant writers should familiarize themselves with the priorities of their state before applying for funds. Typically, states have specified their priorities within these broad categories in a five-year plan. A matching of one-thrid of the funds from nongovernmental sources usually is required, too.

National Leadership Awards: These grants are made by IMLS directly to libraries and library systems. The awards range from $15,000 to $500,000 and are for one year or two. The 2000 deadlines were in February and April, and IMLS is now reviewing applications and will announce award winners in various categories beginning in July. (Application information can be found at

National Leadership Awards come in four categories: education and training; research and demonstration; preservation and digitization; and library-museum collaboration. The first two categories “are directly applicable to school libraries,” said Jeanne McConnell, program officer. However, IMLS looks for projects that can be replicated nationally; funds are not intended merely to bolster the technology of a local school district’s media center. “We want projects that will be a model and will have a national impact,” she said, “but we look for a something that hasn’t been tried before.”

The program is designed explicitly to encourage new ways of using libraries as educational and community resources, so it does not cover more mundane library needs such as computer purchases and internet access fees. The organization has just issued is year 2001 guidelines, which McConnell said contain few changes from the 2000 guidelines.

Here are three examples of IMLS grant winners, and several other examples can be found on the organization’s web site:

Urie Elementary School Library (Lyman, Wyo.). The library staff developed the county library’s web page and connected both the county and the school to the internet. The library also hosts book fairs for the community and technology nights for parents. Students at the school are encouraged to use the web to write stories and use both books and computer technology to explore their world. me.html

Simon Wiesenthal Center Library and Archives (Los Angeles). This library, one of the world’s repositories of Holocaust information, supports the public outreach efforts of the Museum of Tolerance. Through a program called Teaching Steps to Tolerance, the library helps train local educators and librarians about cultural diversity and tolerance.

Oregon School Library Information System (OSLIS). OSLIS helps K-12 students achieve Oregon’s state education standards, including information literacy skills, by creating, evaluating, and providing cost-effective, curriculum-based online information resources. Since 1998, OSLIS has helped students access full-text articles from thousands of periodicals, newspapers, and health resources through an online database. By purchasing this database for the state, OSLIS has reduced per-school costs dramatically and, more importantly, brought new resources to the stateís less-funded school systems. Library resource specialists regularly review the database to cull out the best information and have developed curricula designed to teach students how to use these resources.

For more information on the entire IMLS program, visit the program’s web site. n