Grant Applicants - Program Guidelines

Sparks! Ignition Grants for Libraries – FY14 Guidelines
Application Deadline: February 3, 2014
(Projects must begin October 1, November 1, or December 1, 2014.)

Date Posted: November 7, 2013
Catalog of Federal Domestic Assistance (CFDA) Number: 45.312

IMLS Information

Guideline Contents

  1. Introduction

  2. Program Information

  3. Eligibility

  4. Registration Requirements

  5. Preparing and Submitting an Application

  6. After You Apply

Questions? See the Sparks! Ignition Grants for Libraries web page for IMLS contact info.

Teletype (TTY/TDD) (for persons with hearing difficulty): 202/653-4614
Upon request, we will provide an audio recording of this or any other publication.

Webinars with Program Staff

We are available by phone and through e-mail to discuss general issues relating to applications and awards in the Sparks! Ignition Grants for Libraries program. We also invite you to participate in a webinar to learn more about the program, ask questions, and listen to the questions and comments of other participants.

The live webinars for the FY14 Sparks! Ignition Grants for Libraries program will occur on December 11, 2013 and January 7, 2014, both at 3:30 ET. Click here to join the Jan 7 webinar.

You will be required to provide a name to enter the webinar. Please note that the name you enter will be visible to all participants in the webinar, and we will use it to call on you if you have a question, so please use a name that is pronounceable and appropriate.

When joining the webinar, you may be prompted to install the latest version of Java. If you get system prompts while logging in, choose “Run,” “Accept,” or “OK.”

The audio for the live webinar is available through your computer’s speakers. Please click here to enter a Configuration Room to test your audio. Alternatively, you may dial in to hear audio for the live webinar over your telephone. Using any touch-tone phone, call (866) 299-7945. When prompted to enter a passcode, enter 9910420#.

Please note that the webinar schedule is subject to change. During the weeks of December 11th and January 7th, visit the Sparks! Ignition Grants for Libraries program web page to confirm the date and time of the live webinar.

Equal Opportunity

IMLS-funded programs do not discriminate on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex, disability, or age. For further information, write to the Civil Rights Officer, Institute of Museum and Library Services, 1800 M Street, NW, 9th Floor, Washington, DC 20036-5802.

Office of Management and Budget Clearance Numbers

Guidelines: OMB No. 3137-0029; Expiration Date: 9/30/2015
Forms: OMB No. 3137-0071; Expiration Date: 9/30/2015

How long should it take me to complete this application?

We estimate the average amount of time needed for one applicant to complete the narrative portion of this application to be 15 hours. This includes the time for reviewing instructions, searching existing data sources, gathering and maintaining the data needed, and writing and reviewing the answers.

We estimate that, in addition to the time needed for you to answer the narrative questions, it will take you an average of 1 hour for the Program Information Sheet and three hours for the IMLS Budget form.

Send comments regarding this burden estimate or any other aspect of this collection of information, including suggestions for reducing this burden, to the Institute of Museum and Library Services at 1800 M Street, NW, 9th Floor, Washington, DC 20036-5802, and to the Office of Management and Budget, Paperwork Reduction Project (3137-0029), Washington, DC 20503.


1. Introduction

The mission of the Institute of Museum and Library Services is to inspire libraries and museums to advance innovation, lifelong learning, and cultural and civic engagement. We provide leadership through research, policy development, and grant making.

U.S. museums and libraries are at the forefront in the movement to create a nation of learners. As stewards of cultural heritage with rich, authentic content, libraries and museums provide learning experiences for everyone. In FY2014, each Sparks! Ignition Grants for Libraries award will support one of the three goals of the IMLS strategic plan for 2012-2016, "Creating a Nation of Learners":

  • IMLS places the learner at the center and supports engaging experiences in libraries and museums that prepare people to be full participants in their local communities and our global society.
  • IMLS promotes museums and libraries as strong community anchors that enhance civic engagement, cultural opportunities, and economic vitality.
  • IMLS supports exemplary stewardship of museum and library collections and promotes the use of technology to facilitate discovery of knowledge and cultural heritage.

The goals focus on achieving positive public outcomes for communities and individuals; supporting the unique role of museums and libraries in preserving and providing access to collections and content; and promoting library, museum, and information service policies that ensure access to information for all Americans.

Supporting IMLS Initiatives

We invite libraries to address STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) in their programs and projects in order to advance learning and support the acquisition of STEM knowledge at all ages, but particularly for at-risk youth. Click here to learn more about IMLS’s role in STEM initiatives. Projects addressing STEM learning should check the appropriate box on the Program Information Sheet component of the application.

2. Program Information

What are Sparks! Ignition Grants for Libraries?

Sparks! Ignition Grants for Libraries (Sparks Grants) are a special funding opportunity within the IMLS National Leadership Grants for Libraries program. These small grants encourage libraries, and archives to prototype and evaluate specific innovations in the ways they operate and the services they provide, resulting in new tools, products, services, or organizational practices. You may propose activities or approaches that involve risk, as long as the project results – be they success, failure, or a combination thereof – offer valuable information to the library field and the potential for improvement in the ways libraries serve their communities. You are required to submit a short white paper, with the results of your work to be publicly posted and shared with the field.

What are the characteristics of successful Sparks Grants projects?

  • Broad Impact: Your project should show the potential for far-reaching impact beyond your institution and influence practice across one or more disciplines or specific fields within the library or archival profession.
  • In-depth Knowledge: Your project should reflect a thorough understanding of current practice and knowledge about the subject matter and an awareness and support of current strategic initiatives and agendas in the field.
  • Innovative Approach: Your project should employ new approaches to strengthen and improve services to benefit the audiences and communities being served.
  • Shared Results: Your proposal should generate results that can be widely used, adapted, scaled, or replicated to extend the benefits of federal investment.

What is the deadline for applying for a Sparks Grant?

The application deadline for the FY2014 Sparks! Ignition Grants for Libraries is February 3, 2014.

What is the period of time during which my organization can conduct activities funded by a FY2014 Sparks Grant?

Sparks Grants are one year in duration. Projects must begin on October 1, November 1, or December 1, 2014. Projects must begin on the first day of the month and end on the last day of the final month of the project.

How much money can my institution apply for?

Sparks Grants awards range from $10,000 to $25,000, subject to the availability of funds and IMLS discretion.

Do we have to provide funds from other sources in order to be eligible for a Sparks Grant?

There are no matching or cost share requirements for Sparks Grants. Click here for further information on cost sharing.

How many applications can we submit to this program?

There is no limit on the number of applications your organization may submit to this program in FY2014.

What activities may be funded with a Sparks Grant?

Examples of activities that may be funded by this program include but are not limited to the following:

  • Rapid prototyping and testing of new ways to engage learners
  • Offering innovative new types of services or new service options
  • Exploring the potential of highly original, experimental collaborations
  • Implementing new workflows or processes with potential for substantial cost savings
  • Addressing community challenges through new types of partnerships, services, processes, or practices
  • Developing and testing new tools or services that facilitate access, presentation, management, preservation, sharing, or use of library and/or archival collections

Click here for samples of recently funded Sparks Grants.

To find additional examples of recently funded grants, go to the Search Awarded Grants function on the IMLS website. Click here to Search Awarded Grants by program, category, and/or key word.

What do I need to know about acknowledgement of IMLS support, sharing IMLS-supported work products and copyright, and data management and sharing?

Read more about acknowledgement of IMLS support, sharing IMLS-supported work products and copyright, data management and sharing.

What requirements govern the use of IMLS funds?

You may use IMLS funds for activities that may be funded under program-specific requirements of the FY2014 Sparks grant program, and that are allowable under IMLS and government-wide cost principle rules, including OMB circulars and regulations.

How do I determine what costs are allowable?

In addition to program-specific requirements included in these FY2014 Sparks Grants guidelines, organizations of similar types doing similar work with the federal government must follow particular cost principles and procedures. Title 2 of the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) provides specific information on cost principles for allowable costs in federal grants.

Consult these FY2014 Sparks Grant program guidelines and the appropriate cost principles in the CFR to determine the allowability of a proposed cost item in your budget proposal.

If your organization is a …

Then use these cost principles …

Non-profit Organization

2 CFR 230 (OMB Circular A-122)

State, Local or Indian Tribal Government

2 CFR 225 (OMB Circular A-87)

College or University

2 CFR 220 (OMB Circular A-21)

What are some examples of allowable costs for the FY2014 Sparks Grants?

The following list includes some examples of allowable costs in this grant program. Please consult the appropriate cost principles in the CFR for additional guidance on allowable costs.

  • personnel salaries, wages, and fringe benefits
  • travel expenses for key project staff and consultants
  • materials, supplies, software, and equipment related directly to project activities
  • publication design and printing
  • consultant fees
  • services (e.g. design, technical support, printing, non-construction labor)
  • internships/fellowships

What are some examples of unallowable costs for the FY2014 Sparks Grants?

The following list includes some examples of unallowable costs in this grant program. Please consult the appropriate cost principles in the CFR for additional guidance on allowable costs.

  • general fundraising costs, such as development office staff or other staff time devoted to general fundraising
  • contributions to endowments
  • general operating support
  • acquisition of collections
  • general advertising or public relations costs designed solely to promote activities other than those related to the specific project
  • construction and renovation of facilities (generally, any activity involving contract labor of the construction trades)
  • exhibit fabrication that involves contract labor of the construction trades
  • reconstruction or renovation of historic sites
  • social activities, ceremonies, receptions, or entertainment
  • pre-award costs
  • overhead or indirect costs

If you have questions about allowable costs, please call us for guidance.

Are partners required for Sparks Grants?

Partners may strengthen a Sparks Grant application if they are appropriate to the project, but they are not required. An application may include one or more partners. The lead applicant must be eligible to apply as an individual entity, and all partners should be active contributors to project activities. Please note that we encourage the lead applicant to include a letter of support from each partner. Click here to learn more about partnerships.


3. Eligibility

Is my organization eligible for an award under the FY2014 Sparks! Ignition Grants for Libraries?

To be eligible for an award under the FY2014 Sparks! Ignition Grants for Libraries program, you must meet all three of the following criteria:

  • You must be either a unit of state or local government or a private nonprofit organization that has tax-exempt status under the Internal Revenue Code.
  • You must be located in one of the 50 States of the United States of America, the District of Columbia, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Guam, American Samoa, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, the Republic of the Marshall Islands, the Federated States of Micronesia, or the Republic of Palau.
  • You must qualify as one of the following types of organizations:
    1. A library or a parent organization, such as a school district, a municipality, a state agency, or an academic institution, that is responsible for the administration of a library. Eligible libraries include public libraries, public elementary and secondary school libraries, college and university libraries, research libraries and archives that are not an integral part of an institution of higher education and that make publicly available library services and materials that are suitable for scholarly research and not otherwise available. Research libraries, under the supervision of at least one permanent professional staff person, must be either generally recognized as possessing unique scholarly research materials and services that are made available to the public, or able to demonstrate that such is the case when submitting an application to IMLS.
    2. A private library or other special library, but only if the State in which it is located determines that the library should be considered a library for purposes of Library Services and Technology (see (20 USC 9122(1)(E)).
    3. An academic or administrative unit, such as a graduate school of library and information science that is part of an institution of higher education through which it would make application.
    4. A digital library, if it makes library materials publicly available and provides library services, including selection, organization, description, reference, and preservation, under the supervision of at least one permanent professional staff person.
    5. A library agency that is an official agency of a state or other unit of government and is charged by the law governing it with the extension and development of public library services within its jurisdiction;
    6. A library consortium that is a local, statewide, regional, interstate, or international cooperative association of library entities that provides for the systematic and effective coordination of the resources of eligible libraries, as defined above, and information centers that work to improve the services delivered to the clientele of these libraries.
    7. A library association that exists on a permanent basis, serves libraries or library professionals on a national, regional, state, or local level, and engages in activities designed to advance the well-being of libraries and the library profession.

Note to applicants: In order to receive an IMLS grant award, you must be in compliance and good standing on all active IMLS grants.


4. Registration Requirements

Before submitting an application, your organization must have a current and active D-U-N-S® Number, registration, and registration. Check your materials and registrations well in advance of the application deadline to ensure that they are accurate, current, and active.

What is a D-U-N-S® Number and how do I get one?
Click here to learn more about Getting a D-U-N-S® Number.

What is and how do I register?
Click here to learn more about Registration.

What is and how do I register?
Read more about Registration and Tips for Using


5. Preparing and Submitting an Application


For the FY2014 Sparks Grants for Libraries, will accept applications through 11:59 p.m. Eastern Time on February 3, 2014.


Click here to learn more about

Use one of the following identifiers to locate the Sparks Grants for Libraries package in
CFDA No: 45.312, or
Funding Opportunity Number: SPARKS-Libraries-FY14

What documents are required to make a complete application?

The Table of Application Components below will help you prepare a complete and eligible application. Links to more information and instructions for completing each application component are provided in the table. Applications missing any Required Documents or Conditionally Required Documents from this list will be considered incomplete and will be rejected from further consideration.

How should the application components be formatted, named, and sequenced?

  • Document format: Aside from the first two documents listed below which are created in, all application components must be submitted as PDF documents.
  • Page limits: Note page limits listed below. We will remove any pages above the limit, and we will not send them to reviewers as part of your application.
  • Naming convention: Use the naming convention indicated below. IMPORTANT: You are limited to using the following characters in all attachment file names: A-Z, a-z, 0-9, underscore (_), hyphen (-), space, period. If you use any other character when naming your attachment files, your application will be rejected.
  • Document order: In, append all application components in the sequence listed below. Use all available spaces in the "Mandatory Documents for Submission" box first. You should append any remaining application components in the "Optional Documents for Submission" box.
  • Complete applications: Use the table below as a checklist to ensure that you have created and attached all necessary application components.

You must convert documents to PDF format before submitting them. Click here for assistance in converting documents to PDF. Also, do not send secured or password-protected PDFs; we cannot process these files.

When entering the names of project staff into the SF-424S, note that the Authorized Representative cannot be the same person as the Project Director.

Table of Application Components



File name to use

Required Documents

The Application for Federal Assistance/Short Organizational Form (SF-424S) form


Abstract (to be uploaded through (one page, max.)

Text document that you create


IMLS Program Information Sheet



Organizational Profile (one page, max.)

PDF document


Narrative (six pages, max.)

PDF document


Schedule of Completion (one page, max.)

PDF document


IMLS Budget Form



Budget Justification

PDF document


List of Key Project Staff and Consultants (one page, max.)

PDF document


Resumes of Key Project Staff and Consultants that appear on the list above (two pages each, max.)

PDF document


Conditionally Required Documents

Proof of Nonprofit Status

PDF document


Digital Content Supplementary Information Form



Supporting Documents

Information that supplements the narrative and supports the project description provided in the application

PDF document



A project abstract should be no more than one page. Insert the file, which you generate through a word processing program and save as a PDF, into the Abstract field in

Information in the abstract should cover the following areas as related to the proposed project:

  • Who is the lead applicant and, if applicable, who are the partners?
  • What is the time frame for the project?
  • What is the challenge, problem, or need the project addresses?
  • Which one of the IMLS strategic goals does this project address?
  • Who is the intended audience for the project outcomes?
  • What will be the specific project activities and tangible products?
  • What is the potential impact or benefit if the innovation you are testing proves promising?
  • How does your project reflect the Sparks Grant Program requirements of demonstrating broad impact and significant innovation?

This abstract may be used for public information purposes, so it should be informative to other people working in the same or related fields, as well as to the lay reader. The abstract must not include any proprietary or confidential information.

IMLS Program Information Sheet

1. Applicant Information

  1. Legal Name: Enter 5a from the SF424S.

  2. Applicant D-U-N-S® Number: Enter 5f from the SF424S.

  3. Check Yes or No, and provide expiration date, if you check the Yes box. Please note that, before submitting an application, your organization must have a current registration.

  4. Organizational Unit: If you cannot apply for grants on your own behalf, then enter your organizational unit's name and address in these spaces. For example, if your museum or library is part of a parent organization, such as a university, then enter the name of the university under Legal Name and the museum or library as the Organizational Unit.

  5. Organizational Unit Address: Be sure to include the four-digit extension on the ZIP code.

  6. Organizational Governance: You should check the box that best characterizes your organization.

  7. Organizational Unit Type: Select the one that most accurately describes your organization.

2. Organizational Financial Information

  • a-d: All applicants must provide the information requested.

3. Grant Program Information

  • Select Library under d. Sparks! Ignition Grants.

4. Check this box if your project addresses STEM learning.

5. Funding Request Information

  1. IMLS Funds Requested: Enter the amount in dollars sought from IMLS.

  2. Cost Share Amount: Enter the amount of non-federal funding you are providing, if any. Click here to learn more about cost share.

6. Project Subject Area

  • Check the boxes that reflect the subject areas to be addressed by your project.

7. Population Served

  • Check the boxes that reflect the population(s) to be served by your project.

8. Museum Profile

  • Sparks Grants for Libraries applicants skip this section.

9. Project Elements

  • Sparks Grants applicants skip this section.

Download Program Information Sheet (minimum requirements Adobe Reader 7.0.5): 
Adobe® PDF (850KB)


How should my narrative document be formatted?
Limit the narrative to six single-spaced, numbered pages. We will remove any pages above the six-page limit, and they will not be reviewed as part of your application.

Make sure your organization's name appears at the top of each page. Use at least 0.5-inch margins on all sides and a font size of at least twelve-point. See the instructions for "Supporting Documents" to provide supplementary material.

How will my narrative be reviewed?
Reviewers with a variety of professional backgrounds will read these applications and advise us on their merits. They will base their evaluations on the information presented in the application. Your project narrative should therefore be clear, concise, and well organized with a minimum of technical jargon.

Review criteria are listed below for each section of the narrative. These criteria describe what the reviewers are instructed to consider as they evaluate proposals. Keep these review criteria in mind when writing your narrative.

What elements do I include in my narrative?
Structure your narrative according to the following outline, using the three section titles and addressing the bullet points beneath them. In each section of your narrative be mindful of the characteristics of a successful Sparks Grants project: broad impact, in-depth knowledge, innovative approach, and shared results.

1. Project Justification

  • What do you propose to do?
  • What need, problem, or challenge will your project address?
  • Who or what will benefit from your project?
  • What are the intended results of your project?

Review Criteria:

  • Is the project clearly explained?
  • Is the need, problem, or challenge clearly identified and supported by relevant evidence?
  • Are the people who will benefit from the project clearly identified and have they been involved in project planning?
  • Are the intended results well formulated and achievable?
  • Does the project address current needs of the library or archive field and/or have the potential to advance practice in the library or archival profession?
  • Does the project meet the Sparks Grants requirement of demonstrating broad impact, in-depth knowledge, and an innovative approach?

2. Project Work Plan

  • What specific activities will you carry out?
  • Who will plan, implement, and manage your project?
  • When and in what sequence will your activities occur?
  • What financial, personnel, and other resources will you need to carry out the activities?
  • What resources will your institution contribute to the project?
  • How and with whom will you track progress toward achieving your intended results?
  • In addition to the required white paper, how and with whom will you share your project results?

Review Criteria:

  • Are the proposed activities, technology and/or methodologies informed by appropriate theory and practice?
  • Are the technical details including all information required in the Digital Content Supplementary Information form provided for projects generating digital products?
  • Do the identified staff, partners, consultants, and service providers possess the experience and skills necessary to complete the work successfully?
  • Is the schedule of work realistic and achievable?
  • Are the time, personnel, and financial resources identified appropriate for the scope and scale of the project?
  • Does the institution provide evidence of its capacity to carry out the project activities?
  • Is a clear methodology described for tracking the project's progress and adjusting course when necessary?
  • Is there an effective plan for communicating results and/or sharing discoveries?

3. Project Results

Review Criteria:

Conditionally Required Documents for Sparks Grants

If your organization is a private, nonprofit institution, you must submit a copy of the IRS letter indicating your eligibility for nonprofit status under the applicable provision of the Internal Revenue Code of 1954, as amended. We will not accept a letter of state sales tax exemption as proof of nonprofit status.

If your project will result in a digital product (for example, a database, new software, etc.), you must include the Digital Content Supplementary Information Form.

Supporting Documents

You may submit other attachments of your choosing as part of your application package, but do not overload the reviewers with too much information. These attachments should include only information that will supplement the narrative and support the project description provided in the application. They should help reviewers envision your project, but they should not be used to answer narrative questions. You may wish to consider the following:

  • Letters of commitment from partners who will receive grant funds or contribute substantive funds to the completion of project activities
  • Letters of support from experts and/or stakeholders
  • Needs assessments
  • Reports from planning activities
  • Web links to relevant online materials

What Federal laws do I agree to comply with when I submit my application?

As an applicant for Federal funds, you must certify that you are responsible for complying with certain nondiscrimination, debarment and suspension, drug-free workplace, and lobbying laws. These are outlined below and are set out in more detail, along with other requirements, in the Assurances and Certifications. By signing the application form, which includes the Assurances and Certifications, you certify that you are in compliance with these requirements and that you will maintain records and submit any reports that are necessary to ensure compliance. Your failure to comply with these statutory and regulatory requirements may result in the suspension or termination of your grant and require you to return funds to the government.

1. Nondiscrimination Statutes: You certify that you do not discriminate:

  • on the grounds of race, color, or national origin (including limited English proficiency), in accordance with Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended (42 U.S.C. §2000d et seq.);
  • on the grounds of disability, in accordance with Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, as amended (29 U.S.C. §701 et seq., including §794);
  • on the basis of age, in accordance with the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1975, as amended (42 U.S.C. §6101 et seq.); and on the basis of sex, in any education program or activity, in accordance with Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 (20 U.S.C. §1681 et seq.).

2. Debarment and Suspension (2 C.F.R. Part 180 and 2 C.F.R. Part 3185):
You certify that neither you nor your principals: (a) are presently excluded or disqualified; (b) have been convicted within the preceding three years of offenses listed in 2 C.F.R. §180.800 (including but not limited to: fraud, antitrust, embezzlement, or offense indicating lack of business integrity) or have had a civil judgment rendered against you or them for one of such offenses within that time period; (c) are presently indicted for or otherwise criminally or civilly charged by a governmental entity (Federal, State, or local) with commission of any of such offenses; or (d) have had one or more public transactions (Federal, State, or local) terminated within the preceding three years for cause or default. Where you are unable to certify to any of the above, you must attach an explanation to this application. You must also comply with applicable sections of the OMB guidance in 2 C.F.R. Part 180, and include a term or condition in lower-tier transactions requiring lower-tier participants to comply with subpart C of the OMB guidance in 2 C.F.R. Part 180.

3. Federal Debt Status:
You certify that you are not delinquent in the repayment of any Federal debt. Examples include delinquent payroll or other taxes, audit disallowances, and benefit overpayments.

4. Drug-Free Workplace:
You must provide a drug-free workplace by complying with the requirements of 2 C.F.R. Part 3186. This includes: making a good faith effort to maintain a drug-free workplace; publishing a drug-free workplace statement; establishing a drug-free awareness program for your employees; taking actions concerning employees who are convicted of violating drug statutes in the workplace; and identifying (either at the time of your application or upon award, or in documents that you keep on file in your offices) all known workplaces under your Federal awards.

5. Lobbying Activities (31 U.S.C. §1352):
You are subject to various restrictions against lobbying or attempting to influence a Federal employee or a Member of Congress or congressional employees, in connection with legislation, appropriations, or the award or modification of a Federal contract, grant, cooperative agreement, or loan. Certain additional restrictions apply if you are requesting over $100,000 in Federal assistance.

The Assurances and Certifications contain other general requirements that may apply depending on the nature of your grant activity (for example, the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act of 1990 and the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966).


6. After You Apply

What is the application review process?

We use a peer review process to evaluate all eligible and complete applications. Reviewers are professionals in the field with relevant knowledge and expertise in the types of project activities identified in the applications. They are instructed to evaluate proposed projects according to the criteria identified in these guidelines. The Director takes into account the advice provided by the review process and makes final funding decisions consistent with the purposes of the agency’s programs.

When will we find out if we have been selected to receive a grant?

No information about the status of an application will be released until the applications have been reviewed and all deliberations are concluded. IMLS expects to notify both funded and unfunded applicants of final decisions by July 2014. Funded projects may not begin earlier than October 1, 2014.