About Us - National Initiatives

Museums and Libraries Engaging America's Youth -- Background

A National Need

We know that youth face tremendous challenges to succeed in school and in life. As a nation we are increasingly aware of the value of effective community institutions in engaging youth, both in school and out of school.

Serving youth is core to the mission of most museums and libraries and IMLS has a long history of grant making, research, and convening experts to support this mission.

IMLS has statutory requirement to identify national needs and trends; report on impact and effectiveness of programs; and identify and share best practices.

IMLS will shine a spotlight on the role of museums and libraries and will build bridges with other federal agencies, the formal and informal learning community, youth development organizations and public policy makers to help America’s youth meet the challenges they face to succeed in school and in life.

Together we will:

  • Examine what works
  • Share best practices
  • Encourage more effective programming for youth
  • Build bridges between museums, libraries, public policy makers and funders

What Others are Saying

Young Americans in many communities are at risk. Research has shown that children are less likely to engage in risky behaviors when they are connected to parents, family, school, community, and faith.

Laura Bush, Summit on Helping America’s Youth October 27, 2005

What will it take – what must happen, what resources are needed, and what obstacles overcome – to build and sustain a rich variety of high-quality out-of-school learning opportunities for children and families, especially for those with the least access to such opportunities?

Children are most likely to benefit if they and their parents are able to put together a mosaic of positive experiences.

From: A Discussion Paper for the Wallace Foundation Symposium on
Out-of-School Time Learning. Washington, DC April 21, 2005

State policymakers increasingly recognize the important contributions high quality extra learning opportunities can make toward education, youth development, workforce, and prevention priorities.

Supporting Student Success: A Governor’s Guide to Extra Learning Opportunities,
National Governors Association, 2005

The question we must ask is, in addition to quality schools, what non-school learning resources should we invest in and scale up to improve educational outcomes, narrow achievement gaps, and equip our children with the knowledge and skills needed to succeed in the complex and global 21st Century?

Issue: Heather Weiss, Complementary Learning,
Harvard Family Research Project, Spring 2005


The Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) has a long-standing commitment to funding grants and to sponsoring research on the subject of how pre-school and school-age children learn, and how museums and libraries provide positive environments for learning.

Since 1997, IMLS estimates it has spent more than $250 million on projects that engage youth in productive, educational activities and that improve their skills and relationships.

Surveys on museum-school collaborations, published as "True Needs, True Partners," (1998 and 2002). 

IMLS funded research on "Learning in Museums" (Museum Learning Collaborative) (2000) which resulted in new research models for museum education and established the Museum Learning Collaborative (http://museumlearning.com/default.html) to share literature on learning in museums. This research undertaken by Gaea Leinhardt, and Karen Knutson of the University of Pittsburgh led to the publication of Listening in on Conversations in Museums, AltaMira Press, 2004.

The White House Conference on School Libraries, June 4, 2002 was a landmark event that brought together leaders from the fields of education, library services, government, and philanthropy to highlight the importance of schools libraries in children’s education. The proceedings of the conference were published by IMLS documenting the essential role of school libraries in student achievement.

IMLS and the Association of Children’s Museums co-hosted the symposium "The 21st Century Learner: The Continuum Begins with Early Learning" September 18-19, 2003. The symposium brought together representatives from the museum, library, public television, early learning and lifelong learning communities to encourage the development or strengthening of local learning collaborations. Attendees to the symposium were encouraged to attend in teams of community partners (e.g. a representative from each field -- museums, libraries, and public broadcasting). http://www.childrensmuseums.org/programs/21_century.htm

In August 2004 IMLS convened "Charting the Landscape, Mapping New Paths: Museum, Libraries and K-12 Learning," the proceedings of which were published in 2005. More than 70 educators, researchers, policy makers, and museum and library professionals attended this workshop examining the intersections of museums, libraries, and K-12 education. The resulting report captures the key issues that emerged at the workshop, highlights seminal project and partnership examples, and provides some common language around a vision for how museum/school/library collaborations can contribute to a learning society.