January 23, 2024

A successful pilot effort paves the way for the nation’s first annual federal survey of the museum sector

National Museum Survey logo

Washington, DC—The Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) announced today that a successful pilot effort has secured the future of the National Museum Survey (NMS), set to launch in early 2025. In a summary report, IMLS highlights findings from the NMS pilot and next steps for the implementation of the first-ever annual federal survey to gather and share data about the essential work happening across the country in museums and cultural institutions.

The IMLS-sponsored NMS will create the first federal, free-of-charge, and publicly available database of credible statistics on museums and related institutions, allowing for new policy approaches to more efficiently invest in the infrastructure of the nation’s heritage.

Data obtained through the NMS will inform policy decisions and further investment by bringing together key statistics from large, small, urban, and rural museums and related institutions to help bridge resource, technological, and distance gaps.

“The IMLS National Museum Survey will show the size, the breadth, and the deeply significant impact the museum world has on our economy, our culture, and our heritage,” said IMLS Director Crosby Kemper. “This will be an annual comprehensive look at the funding, the employment, the visitation, and the direction of the incredibly varied, incredibly powerful activities of art, history, and science museums, botanical gardens, zoos, aquariums, and the whole host of our American cultural institutions.”

The NMS will help quantify the impact of museums in communities as economic engines, employers, and stewards of the nation’s heritage. The information gathered annually will provide a clearer and more comprehensive picture of funding needs and the important contributions that museums make to the education, health, wellbeing, and economy of communities.

Much like the national Census, the NMS will provide a broad picture of the state of museums and related institutions in the United States. By benchmarking the reach and impact of federal dollars in the museum field, the NMS will enable new policy approaches to more efficiently invest in America’s historical, natural, and cultural infrastructure.

The official launch of the NMS was preceded by more than a decade of IMLS research culminating with the NMS pilot, which was fielded during the summer of 2023. The pilot’s development and administration was based on a comprehensive, methodical process designed to incorporate extensive feedback from the museum field.

The NMS pilot identified approximately 20,000 museums and related institutions that might be eligible for inclusion in the NMS, which will target a broad range of institutions nationwide representing a variety of disciplines, including botanical gardens, arboretums, nature centers, zoos, aquariums, science and technology centers, planetariums, historic sites, historic houses, specialized and general museums, children’s museums, natural history museums, anthropology museums, and art museums.

“When IMLS launches the first annual National Museum Survey in 2025, it is our hope that museums across the country welcome the opportunity to showcase the important work they do,” said IMLS Deputy Director of the Office of Museum Services Laura Huerta Migus. “It is their participation that will help ensure the recognition and investment our nation’s cultural institutions deserve.”

After the first annual NMS is executed and completed in 2025, IMLS plans to use its findings to build dynamic dashboards and other data products that will allow users to interact with the data and will enable institutions to compare themselves to others in their museum discipline. The data will provide a clear picture of the latest trends and offerings so museums can make decisions on allocating resources.

Learn more about this effort by reading the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) National Museum Survey (NMS) Pilot: A Summary Report, visiting imls.gov/nationalmuseumsurvey, and subscribing to the IMLS newsletter for updates.

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 libraries and museums. We advance, support, and empower America's museums, libraries, and related organizations through grantmaking, research, and policy development. IMLS envisions a nation where individuals and communities have access to museums and libraries to learn from and be inspired by the trusted information, ideas, and stories they contain about our diverse natural and cultural heritage. To learn more, visit www.imls.gov and follow us on Facebook and LinkedIn.