December 31, 2015

By Trevor Owens, Ph.D., Senior Program Officer
Sandra Toro, Ph.D., Senior Program Officer
Office of Library Services, IMLS

IMLS has issued a new call for two-page preliminary proposals for the National Leadership Grants for Libraries and the Laura Bush 21st Century Librarian Program. To help you put your best foot forward in preparing a two-page proposal for either program, here are some tips and key elements from the most competitive proposals in the last cycle.

Review Two-Page Proposals From Last Year’s Funded Projects

Many of the proposal narratives from last year’s National Leadership Grants for Libraries program are available online for review. By clicking on a project and scrolling down, you can find its original two-page proposal. Take a few minutes to review those proposals that may be relevant to your submission, focusing on features that might help you develop your own narrative. Because this is the first year that the Laura Bush 21st Century Librarian Program includes a two-page proposal process, we note that there aren’t examples of successful pre-proposals for that program. However, applicants can still learn a great deal about what works by reading through the National Leadership Grant program proposals that were funded, as the structures of the pre-proposals are very similar and reviewers will be looking for many of the same elements.

Consider Using IMLS Convening Reports to Establish the Need for Your Project

Reports from two 2015 IMLS Focus Convenings are another great resource for your two-page proposal. Both the Learning in Libraries report and National Digital Platform report describe key themes, issues, and needs within these fields, and offer you an opportunity to make the case for the work you intend to do. Spend time exploring these reports and reflect on whether you can anchor your project in addressing one or more of the needs expressed at these events.

Make Sure You Apply to the Right Program

The National Leadership Grants for Libraries and the Laura Bush 21st Century Librarian Program support distinct but often closely related programs. If you are considering applying for either program, it is a good idea to familiarize yourself with both to be sure that you apply for the program that is the best suited for the work you want to do. If you have any questions about which program is a better fit for your proposal, contact a program officer.

Participate in an Informational Webinar

IMLS program staff will hold two webinars on these grant programs. The webinars provide a great opportunity to understand key issues and features of each program, to ask questions, and hear questions from other applicants. Webinars will be held on Tuesday, January 5, 2016 at 3:00 PM EST and on Thursday, January 14, 2016 at 2:00 PM EST. For more information, please visit the webinars page.

Reach Out to a Program Officer

You can find points of contact for the National Leadership Grants for Libraries Program and the Laura Bush 21st Century Librarian Program on their respective web pages. IMLS program officers are here to help applicants determine if their proposed project would be a good fit for our programs. We also want to assist applicants in putting together the most competitive proposals possible. By all means, please use us as a resource!

Consider Making Your First Sentence a Mini Abstract

There are no exact requirements for how you write your two-page proposal. That being said, a common approach among many of last year’s successful projects was the inclusion of a first sentence that described the lead applicant, the amount of money requested, partner organizations, and the main question, objective, or anticipated result of the project. One simple, clear idea can be very effective in convincing reviewers to fund your project. If your proposal is too ambitious in terms of wanting to solve many issues or answer a variety of questions, reviewers will question the ability to manage such a project. In practice, a well-articulated mini abstract is very useful for reviewers in terms of describing what you hope to accomplish if your project is funded.

For Research Proposals: Highlight your Research Question(s) Up Front

If you are proposing a research project, it is essential for reviewers to know what question(s) you intend to answer before they read about why you want to answer that question and how you intend to do so. Successful proposals will not require reviewers to search for that information.

Spend Some Time Considering Your Project’s Title

Your proposal’s name creates its first impression, and you should strive to make it strong. As is evident from many of the successfully funded projects last year, there are many ways to come up with names that work. In general, a title that captures key features of the proposed work is a good bet. Titles that are unclear or are too long and cumbersome tend to raise questions for reviewers about whether you are certain about what you want to accomplish.

Be Sure to Include a Budget Paragraph

The Notification of Funding Opportunity notes that you need to include a budget paragraph, and successful proposals will do that. The budget paragraph helps reviewers gain a quick sense of how resources will be used to accomplish the project’s goals. A succinct but complete description of all relevant information will allow reviewers to evaluate how the project will be structured.

Include All Required Documents

The Notification of Funding Opportunities page lists all required documents. It is important to note that applicants must include The Application for Federal Assistance/Short Organizational Form (SF-424S) and the IMLS Program Information Sheet. The last thing anyone wants is for an otherwise successful project to be ineligible because of a technicality such as not including one of these forms. Please be sure to include all documents required for a complete proposal.

Have an Unfamiliar Reader Offer Feedback

It is often helpful to have someone who is an expert in the library and archives field, but not deeply familiar with your particular project, provide input on how your proposal reads. Having a fresh pair of eyes read your pre-proposal can quickly help identify any holes in the project’s planning, areas that lack clarity, and the general impression that a reader gets from your proposal.


Dr. Trevor Owens can be reached at and Dr. Sandra Toro can be reached at


Laura Bush 21st Century Librarian Program
National Leadership Grants for Libraries