The unsung agency working to maintain museum and library access in the US

Children learning to build electronic circuits at the Orange County Library System

The Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) is the unsung hero of US government arts agencies. It supports hard-to-fund projects at US museums and libraries, and, with a $255m budget it spends far more than the National Endowment for the Arts and its counterpart, the National Endowment for the Humanities. Its new director, Crosby Kemper, was confirmed by the US Senate in January, after 15 years serving as the transformative director of the Kansas City Public Library system. Just a few months into taking office, he is now overseeing the agencys efforts to support museums and libraries as they struggle through the Covid-19 crisis.

Kempers most pressing focus is how to help museums and libraries open soon and safely. “The biggest issue will be fear,” he says. “People are afraid, and we have to help them feel safe and to help libraries and museums make their buildings and collections safe.” He has enlisted the Battelle Institute, the science and technology think tank, and universities to work with IMLS on Covid-19 sanitation. “Books are handled, and libraries and museums are communal spaces, so we need the scientists and the curators and libraries brainstorming on best practices.” The agency received $50m in the federal Covid-19 CARES Act, which requires a big chunk, $30m, to go directly to state projects.

Once the crisis settles down, places with high poverty and what Kemper calls “digital deserts” are core concerns. “Theres a digital divide between the affluent and the poor that IMLS wants to address, but the challenges are surprising.” When Kemper was a public library director, he saw that the most vulnerable households had bad connectivity, for many reasons. “Poor city kids often shuttle among caretakers,” he says, “and eviction turns life upside down on every front, including online access.”

“Access comes in lots of ways,” he adds. IMLS funds African American and Native American organisations needing to preserve and make available their often irreplaceable archives. “These groups dont have big donor bases,” he says. “Without the IMLS money, lots of these projects just woRead More – Source