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Museums Count: IMLS developing web-based census of museums

Thursday, September 23, 2010



White Oak Institute American Association of Museums

IMLS Press Contacts

Mamie Bittner,

The White Oak Institute and the American Association of Museums to begin
data definition process in collaboration with the museum field

Washington, DC— IMLS is announcing a contract with the White Oak Institute and the American Association of Museums to develop standard data definitions in collaboration with the museum field. This work is part of the agency’s museum data collection project, Museums Count.

"We are delighted to announce that we will be working with the White Oak Institute and the American Association of Museums on this effort. Their knowledge and expertise will help to ensure that we are successful in developing a resource that reflects the complexity and diversity of the museum sector," said Marsha L. Semmel, Acting Director of IMLS. "Every museum in the country has a stake in the success of this project and we look forward to a collaborative, engaging process. The lack of comprehensive, reliable data about the size and scope of the museum sector in the United States is a considerable barrier to developing the type of public policy that is needed to fully realize the educational, economic, and cultural value of museums."

"A definitive index of all museums will set the stage for clear evidence about museums’ role and contribution to public value," said John W. Jacobsen, Co-Principal Investigator of the White Oak Institute. "Standardizing definitions for basic museum information is critical for museum innovation and advancement, and must be done by and with the field. We are honored to be selected to facilitate this collaborative process."

"A museum census will help every museum make a better case for all museums," added AAM President Ford W. Bell. "We are thrilled to be part of this project."

The first task for White Oak and AAM will be to study 10-20 existing data sets on U.S. museums and museum participation to develop an overview of currently used data definitions. A variety of methods will be used to engage a wide range of museum directors, museum organizations, research and evaluation leaders, and other interested parties to provide input on standardizing the definitions and prioritizing the value of different elements. The final deliverable will be a report detailing a Museum Census Roadmap, including a data glossary, recommendations for database functionality, and a communications strategy.

This fall, IMLS staff will travel to each of the six regional museum association conferences to engage attendees in a dialogue about Museums Count at IMLS-sponsored sessions and at the agency’s exhibit booths. At the same time, the White Oak Institute and AAM will begin the process of consulting with representatives of the entire museum sector through invitational research convenings and large-scale open discussion channels.

In tandem with this effort, IMLS is working with Information International Associates to create the information architecture for Museums Count and gather basic name, address, and contact information from a variety of sources. Now and through 2011, IMLS will work extensively with the museum sector to verify this list for a clean, comprehensive database of every museum in the nation before launching an online, searchable database, which will be updated on an annual basis.

Through this project, every museum in the United States will be represented in a national, public database. Museums, museum associations, advocates, and researchers will be able to

  • map the exact location of every museum in the United States;
  • find peer museums across the country;
  • determine the true scope and size of the museum sector;
  • locate individual museums or museum organizations within a larger social or economic context;
  • make statements about the capacity of museums in a city, state, or region;
  • establish the known universe of institutions to inform museum research at the local and national level;
  • find potential partners;
  • compare benchmarks and find best practices; and
  • link to museums with common interests.

IMLS is looking forward to close collaboration with the museum field to ensure that Museums Count meets the information needs of museums today and in the years to come. The success of this work depends upon champions in the museum sector who recognize the critical need for accurate, credible information about museums and the impact of their services.

To learn more about Museums Count, please contact Carlos Manjarrez at See also the Acting Director’s Message by Marsha Semmel from July 2010 for more information about IMLS’ museum research strategy.


About the Institute of Museum and Library Services
The Institute of Museum and Library Services is the primary source of federal support for the nation's 123,000 libraries and 17,500 museums. The Institute's mission is to create strong libraries and museums that connect people to information and ideas. The Institute works at the national level and in coordination with state and local organizations to sustain heritage, culture, and knowledge; enhance learning and innovation; and support professional development. To learn more about the Institute, please visit