May 2011 Sparks! Ignition Grant Announcement

California  |  Illinois  |  Indiana  |  Massachusetts  |  New York  |  North Carolina  |  Pennsylvania  |  Texas

Vermont  |  Washington 


Museum of Photographic Arts - San Diego, CA
Award Amount: $25,000

Contact: Ms. Vivian Kung Haga
Deputy Director
619-238-7559 ext. 205;

The Museum of Photographic Arts (MoPA) will develop "Your Photo Here," a project designed to build the capacity of museums to engage with audiences through an advanced online contest. The project will create open source software to facilitate online submission of user-generated content including photographs, videos, written narratives, and weblinks. The software will also support public voting on the content, thereby encouraging the contest to spread virally through participants' networks of friends, family, and colleagues.


University of Illinois - Chicago, IL
Award Amount: $15,319

Contact: Lisa Lee

The Jane Addams Hull-House Museum in Chicago, Illinois, will launch an heirloom seed library that will provide free, regionally adapted seeds to urban farmers. The seed library is dedicated to conserving the diversity of our planet's seed stock and fostering sustainable food systems and communities throughout the city. The project changes the way cultural institutions address the pressing issue of sustainability, making new connections between environmental diversity and cultural diversity. The public is invited to apply for a library card in order to "check out" seeds with the agreement that they grow them out and return some seeds of the next generation at the end of the season. The seed library will be a way to make a necessary resource accessible to a broad group of people, create a new community of urban farmers, and bridge those who grow for fun and those who must grow out of necessity.



Indiana University - Indianapolis, IN
Award Amount: $24,998

Contact: Ms. Elaine Skopelja
Associate Librarian

The Indiana University School of Medicine's library will test a new way of using existing technical standards to help overcome common problems that many libraries and archives face when digitizing historic collections. Too often, differences in the original materials such as varying formats and descriptive vocabularies result in "silos" of digital information that cannot easily be searched, discovered, and presented in a consistent or meaningful way. This project will integrate multiple digitized historical collections and test a new experimental interface to help online users better understand the context and relationships between digital collections.

Indianapolis Museum of Art - Indianapolis, IN
Award Amount: $23,781

Contact: Mr. Robert Stein
Chief Information Officer
317-923-1331 ext. 244;

The Indianapolis Museum of Art (IMA) will utilize its experience in visitor research, arts education, and technology to conduct a series of controlled experiments that use eye-tracking technology. The project will consist of three experiments that aim to demonstrate the usefulness and potential barriers to wide adoption of eye-tracking technology by the museum community, as well as determine if such methods provide useful tools for improving visitor experience. The results of these experiments have the potential to reveal entire new fields of study and applications for museum management, fostering a deeper understanding of the cognitive processes of visitors in the gallery and potentially offering an avenue for improved user-interface design to deliver interpretive resources.


Purdue University - West Lafayette, IN
Award Amount: $24,594

Contact: Professor Michael Witt
Assistant Professor of Library Science

The libraries of Purdue University and Penn State University will partner to create a new online information resource for research data producers, users, publishers, librarians, and funding agencies. This resource, Databib, will be an annotated online bibliography of research data repositories, created and maintained by an online community of librarians. Databib will be an important focal point for connecting librarians more closely with other research data stakeholders and demonstrating the significant contributions libraries can make to solving the challenges posed by digital datasets. The Databib platform will also serve as a testbed for linking, integrating, and presenting information about datasets in new ways.


Museum of Science, Boston - Boston, MA
Award Amount: $24,991

Contact: Ms. Sue Stossel

This project seeks to deepen understanding of the ways museum drop-in programs can be designed and implemented so that they reflect principles of universal design for learning and are inclusive of visitors with disabilities. The Museum of Science, Boston will explore two innovative approaches to the creation of accessible programming. The first approach is the formation of a community of interest that connects museum educators with advisors, some of whom are individuals with disabilities who work in disability-related fields. The second approach is the use of the design charrette to rapidly create and refine museum programs so that they reflect principles of universal design.

New York

Brooklyn Public Library - Brooklyn, NY
Award Amount: $25,000

Contact: Mr. Richard Reyes-Gavilan

The Brooklyn Public Library will test the feasibility of a new "Virtual Information Ambassador" video reference and information service at the Welcome Desk, the library's most heavily trafficked area with nearly one million visitors each year. As visitors enter the library they will be greeted by a video screen with a live connection to one of the library's information services staff. The effectiveness of the service will be evaluated as a means of making efficient use of library staff.

Cornell University - Ithaca, NY
Award Amount: $25,000

Contact: Dr. Kornelia Tancheva
Director, Olin and Uris Libraries

Cornell University's library will work with other campus partners including the graduate school and the campus writing center to address the problem of high attrition rates among doctoral students in humanities disciplines. National studies indicate this problem is shared by humanities programs in many universities across the country. A local assessment at Cornell indicated the high dropout rates among humanities graduate students are at least partially attributable to inadequate skills in core areas including research, information management, personal organization, time and project management, using new technologies, and writing. A four-day immersion course for fifteen selected second-year graduate students from the university's humanities departments will offer sessions on each of these skills, taught by librarians and staff from other campus organizations. The project will explore the potential of such an intervention as a model for other universities.


New York Public Library Astor, Lenox and Tilden Foundations - New York, NY
Award Amount: $25,000

Contact: Mr. Benjamin Vershbow
Digital Producer

The New York Public Library (NYPL) already has committed significant resources to scanning 10,000 items from its historical menu collection. This collection is an unmatched resource for historians and other scholars, as well as writers, designers, and food enthusiasts. However, the line-by-line transcription that would make these digitized menus fully searchable would be prohibitively expensive. As an alternative, NYPL will crowdsource the project by working with leading game designers to build an online tool that encourages the general public to perform menu transcriptions as part of an engaging and competitive activity. Through the collective efforts of many participants, users will help build what will gradually become a culinary research database of extraordinary power.

North Carolina

North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources - Raleigh, NC
Award Amount: $25,000

Contact: Ms. Amy Rudersdorf
Director, Digital Information Managment Program

The State Library of North Carolina will partner with the North Carolina State Archives, North Carolina Libraries for Virtual Education, and the libraries of both Elon University and the University of North Carolina at Charlotte to develop an open source software tool. This tool will allow libraries, archives, and other organizations to more easily collect and deposit digital content into a preservation repository. The tool will build upon other existing open source tools but will incorporate new functions to help organizations with limited resources more easily complete many of the time-consuming technical processes that are necessary before digital files can be stored in a digital archive.


Please Touch Museum - Philadelphia, PA
Award Amount: $22,965

Contact: Ms. Judy Meyers

Please Touch Museum and its partner, the Philadelphia Zoo, are planning to develop and pilot a staff training and retention program. The project is an effort to address the desire of several Philadelphia non-profits to hire staff from their neighborhoods in order to combat underemployment and unemployment in their community. It is intended to help improve the local economy, fill available entry-level positions and, most importantly, retain employees from the neighborhood once they've been placed in these positions.


North East Independent School District - San Antonio, TX
Award Amount: $24,963

Contact: Mr. Richard Hasenyager
Director, Library Services

Using institutional repository software that is commonly used by universities but not widely implemented in public schools, the North East Independent School District and its school libraries will create an online repository where student-created book reviews, reports, and promotional videos can be accessed online across all school libraries through the district's catalog system. The repository will also provide a location for the district to collect and preserve its own materials, such as school yearbooks and staff work. Content in the repository, such as a student book review, report, or trailer (in video or audio format) will appear as a link in the related book's online catalog record. This innovation will allow 66,000 students and other users of the district's school-based public library branches to benefit from work by fellow students and staff.


Lake Champlain Basin Science Center - Burlington, VT
Award Amount: $24,670

Contact: Dr. Molly Loomis
Director of Education

The Stewardship Stories project is a collaboration between the Lake Champlain Basin Science Center (LCBSC) and WPTZ News Channel 5 (WPTZ) that will prototype a museum-media partnership that combines the interpretive expertise of a science center, the mass public appeal of a television news channel, and the accessibility of a community-driven Web site to engage audiences to take environmental action in their local communities. By creating a new conservation correspondent position producing weekly news segments, the project will provide authentic examples of community members taking responsibility for stewardship of the natural environment while the museum adds tangible 21st-century solutions for meeting the rapidly evolving social and educational needs of audiences.


Experience Music Project - Seattle, WA
Award Amount: $25,000

Contact: Dr. Patricia Costa Kim
Director of Education

Experience Music Project (EMP) will broaden participation of the museum's teen audience through the implementation of EMP Top 10—an interactive tool designed to cultivate teens as active contributors to, rather than passive consumers of, popular culture. EMP Top 10 is an in-museum and online activity in which visitors can nominate and vote for favorite songs and compare a dynamic, visitor-generated list to authoritative lists drafted by industry professionals and experts. Top 10 activities will leverage Web-based tools to advance the quality and scope of interactions with EMP's exhibitions and programs, particularly by youth aged 10-19, a demographic that comprises 24 percent of museum visitors, and whose participatory needs are rapidly changing in response to newly emerging media.