March 7, 2022

The Lion Statue in front of New York Public Library wore face mask during 2020 United States presidential election.
The Lion Statue in front of New York Public Library wore face mask during 2020 United States presidential election. (Shutterstock)

Museums and libraries have long been involved in engaging their communities around civic participation by acting as polling places, assisting residents with voter registration, and featuring exhibits and programs related to voting.

March 7, 2022 marks one year since President Biden issued Executive Order 14019, Promoting Access to Voting. Following that order, the White House called upon IMLS to "promote civic engagement and participation in the voting process,” a key goal for the agency over the past year and looking forward.

Some examples of projects IMLS has funded at institutions that engage communities in civic discussions include:

  • The Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the United States Senate in Boston is expanding access to its immersive civics learning experience to educators for incorporating into their classrooms. The museum is developing and testing digital tools to allow students to participate from their classrooms in a Senate debate on a real-life bill based on its "Today's Vote in the Classroom" program, currently offered on-site in its full-scale reproduction of the United States Senate Chamber.

  • The Leventhal Map and Education Center at Boston Public Library is fostering increased critical thinking and visual information literacy skills through an initiative focused on how maps influence ideas, emotions, and opinions. A six-month-long exhibition, Persuasion, features maps dating from the 15th century to the present. The initiative also included a series of public talks with scholars, workshops for adults, and K to 12 programs. The exhibition was presented during the 2020 presidential election season when voting and other data maps were an active part of the public discourse.

In recent years, many state libraries across the country have also used funding from IMLS through the Library Services and Technology Act to develop civic engagement programs and voter resources for their communities.

These include the Alaska State Library’s Disability Voter Toolkit, California’s 2019 voting workshop series for adult learners including a Voting Participation Toolkit and an Easy Voter Guide, El Paso Public Library’s mobile, multigenerational, bilingual Pop-Up Civics Lab, and South Carolina’s Charleston County Public Library Voting Information Center web page with videos on how to find a polling place, fill out a ballot, and become a poll worker.

More information about IMLS partnerships and how the agency is supporting the work libraries and museums do to involve and educate communities around civic engagement is available on the IMLS website, with more updates coming soon.