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Continuing to Build Digitally Inclusive Communities

July 7, 2017

By James P. Neal, III
Senior Program Officer, IMLS Office of Library Services

In April IMLS announced 39 awards made through the National Leadership Grants for Libraries program (NLG) and the Laura Bush 21st Century Librarian program (LB21). Of those award recipients, the five projects highlighted in this post represent the growth and development of the national digital platform corroborating the fact that libraries are essential community anchors that have a significant role to play in providing access, encouraging adoption, and impacting the health and vitality of their communities. Click the log number hyperlink for each grant to access additional information, including select documents from each grant proposal.

In 2012, the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) published Building Digital Communities: A Framework for Action to serve as a roadmap for continuing the work of building a digital infrastructure and broadening digital inclusion throughout our communities.

“Digital inclusion” refers to the concept of affording to all individuals and communities open access to and use of computers, mobile devices, and the internet. In addition to access, digital inclusion incorporates as an underlying principle that individuals and communities also have the requisite knowledge, skills, background content, and technical support services necessary to make productive use of technology. The goal of digital inclusion is to transcend and obliterate historical, institutional, and structural barriers to the access and use of technology.

Indeed, IMLS’s Digital Communities Framework envisions the ideal of “digital inclusion” where all Americans have sufficient access to digital resources. Such a digital inclusion goal may only be realized through programs and projects that involve the participation and support of libraries, schools, community-based organizations, businesses, governments, and policy makers. Increasingly, IMLS is seeing and supporting projects that embody these principles by focusing on education resources (OER) – teaching and learning materials licensed to permit free access, reuse, and redistribution; data privacy and analysis; and civic engagement and civic data.

Libraries Leading in Open Educational Resources (OER)

Several new OER projects are geared particularly toward K-12 and higher learning institutions, enabling librarians and educators to expand student learning opportunities.

“Exploring OER Curation and the Role of School Librarians” (LG-86-17-0035-17) is a project funded through a $494,864 NLG Research Grant to the Institute for the Study of Knowledge Management in Education (ISKME). The institute will conduct in-depth case studies of school librarian OER leaders across the country to better understand the role of school librarians in the curation and use of OERs.  The project will document OER digital curation practices and workflows, identify how librarians can lead in all aspects of OER use to align with school district goals and fulfill student needs, and devise and disseminate practical recommendations. The work of this project will culminate in the creation of a framework K-12 librarians can employ to strategically curate and promote OERs to enhance teaching and learning.

At the undergraduate level, a $49,958 NLG Planning Grant (LG-72-17-0051) to North Carolina State University and a consortium network of university libraries and scholarly press partners will work collaboratively to develop an OER toolkit that makes psychology textbooks open and accessible to undergraduate student, as a means of developing a toolkit model that may be readily useable in other fields of study.

Data Privacy and Analysis

Through a $90,150 NLG National Forum grant (LG-73-17-0062-17), the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Center for Information Policy Research, in partnership with Data & Society and the American Library Association's Office of Intellectual Freedom, will host a convening of library practitioners and administrators, and technology, policy, and privacy experts, to explore what privacy means to libraries in the digital world and embark on an effort to develop a national roadmap for digital privacy strategies for libraries.

The growing importance of data collection, display, and analysis throughout the library community is the focus of a $50,000 NLG planning grant to the Pennsylvania Academic Library Consortium, Inc. The project, “Consortia Collaborating for a Platform on Library Usage Statistics (CC-PLUS)” (LG-72-17-0053-17), will plan and pilot a modular, open technology platform for the collection, display, and analysis of usage data by library consortia related to e-resources, such as electronic databases, e-journals, and e-books. This platform will increase libraries’ analytic capacity, enabling them to better use the collective efficacies of the consortia for cost savings when purchasing critical electronic resources.

Civic Engagement and Civic Data

An NLG Planning Grant (LG-72-17-0078-17) will support the development of an open-source open government digital transparency platform designed to promote civic engagement by providing information about the legislative process. The project of the University of Georgia Alexander Campbell King Law Library, in partnership with the UGA Terry College of Business Department of Management Information Systems (MIS) and Georgia School of Law, will provide data access and visualization of the legislative process in state, local, and federal government. This proposed platform will combine text analysis, network analysis, and visualization tools to and will seek to demonstrate how libraries are particularly well-positioned to serve as a conduit to government and legislative information and data.

Together these five projects illustrate how and why libraries serve a significant role as essential community anchors; they address and respond to our modern information needs by leveraging technology inclusively, thereby enabling access and empowering individuals.

James Neal

James Neal is a Senior Program Officer in the Office of Library Services. He manages a portfolio focusing on national digital platform National Leadership Grants and Laura Bush 21st Century Librarian Grants related to building equitable digital communities, including open educational resources, digital inclusion, data privacy and security, and broadband access. James can be reached at

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