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Growing a Strong Middle Class

February 20, 2013 ET

By Susan H. Hildreth
Director, IMLS

The President’s State of the Union address focused on growing a strong middle class and it struck me, once again, how U.S. libraries and museums are part of the solution, whether the issue is

  • providing an onramp to high-tech manufacturing jobs,
  • reimagining learning spaces to prepare teens for work,
  • meeting the needs of the youngest learners with rich learning environments that stimulate brain development,
  • providing a pathway to citizenship with English language learning and civics education for new immigrants, or
  • doing the hard work of community revitalization and providing opportunities for families (including dads!) to learn and have fun together

IMLS is providing funding and leadership to help libraries and museums make a difference in their communities. Here are some recent examples:

Manufacturing
Museums and libraries are exploring how they can be part of a growing movement of hands-on, mentor-led learning environments to make and remake the physical and digital worlds. For example, a grant to the Chicago Public Library will make it possible for it to partner with Museum of Science and Industry and the STEM & Entrepreneurship Exchange. Together they create a place where mentor-led learning will introduce adults, families, teens, and children to technology and equipment that is creating new forms of personal manufacturing and business opportunities.

Reimagining Learning Space for Teens
Together with the MacArthur Foundation, IMLS is supporting the development of “learning labs” in libraries and museums. These spaces are designed to provide young people with a learning approach designed for our times – relevant to the digital age. The learning lab programs are designed to build the intellectual curiosity and the peer and mentor networks young people need to succeed.

Early Learning
Together with the Campaign for Grade Level Reading, IMLS is making the case for the critical role of libraries and museums in fueling love of learning and inspiring school success from a child’s earliest days. A new report, due in the spring, will describe how parents and caregivers can give children a stronger start by taking advantage of library and museum resources, experiences and programs.

Immigration
An emerging partnership between IMLS and U.S. Citizen and Immigration Services will help libraries to meet the needs of immigrants and refugees. An example is an IMLS-supported project at the Hartford Public Library, which is partnering with Catholic Charities Migration and Refugee Resettlement Services, the City of Hartford’s Office of Human Relations, Everyday Democracy, and the University of Connecticut’s School of Social Work to promote immigrant civic engagement.

Community Revitalization
IMLS support is helping the American Library Association (ALA) to develop a new initiative to improve community engagement and innovation in the library sector. The project will develop a new training curriculum to help library leaders serve as conveners and facilitators in their communities. More than 350 librarians will take part in a range of professional development activities planned during the grant period.

And this past August, IMLS entered into a cooperative agreement with Local Initiative Support Corporation (LISC) to systematically review lessons learned from the growing number of comprehensive community development initiatives that involve libraries or museums.

 

Museums and libraries are trusted institutions that are continually taking leadership in their communities to tackle tough problems and deliver great results. Let us know how libraries and museums in your community are making a difference.