Help Build Out the National Digital Platform for Libraries

Emily Reynolds
Trevor Owens

This is a guest post from Emily Reynolds and Trevor Owens at the Institute of Museum and Library Services.



Help Build out the National Digital Platform for Libraries

The Institute of Museum and Library Services is focusing on the national digital platform strategic priority area as a framework for the emerging national digital infrastructure for libraries and archives. We are excited to be able to support libraries and archives across the country in developing this infrastructure.

Act Local, Think National: The National Digital Platform in Practice

Distributed digital infrastructure and national capacity for libraries and archives can sound a bit abstract. So it can be helpful to think through some concrete examples of how the national digital platform works. A librarian in Arizona develops and shares a plugin for an open source repository system that libraries in three other states reuse; a curator in Los Angeles improves the documentation for open source exhibition software that staff members at museums and libraries around the country use to create more dynamic presentations of historical artifacts; a regional library association runs a residency program to place recent library school graduates into positions at cultural heritage organizations in order to run significant digital curation activities and share what they learn.

In each of these situations, library professionals are working to solve local needs for their institutions’ users. At the same time, these professionals are also contributing directly to regional and national efforts. The local work at each of these organizations makes use of and contributes to the national digital platform for libraries and museums. This isn’t a monolithic single system, it’s about better connecting the work that every library does so we can make the best use of resources entrusted to libraries.

Trevor Owens, Senior Program Officer at IMLS, opening the “Defining and Funding the National Digital Platform” panel at the IMLS Convening at the DC Public Library on April 28, 2015 to address the National Digital Platform.
Trevor Owens, Senior Program Officer at IMLS, opening the “Defining and Funding the National Digital Platform” panel at the IMLS Convening at the DC Public Library on April 28, 2015 to address the National Digital Platform.

Near Term Activity Areas in the National Digital Platform Priority

Earlier this year, IMLS held a meeting at the DC Public Library to convene stakeholders from across the country to identify opportunities and gaps in existing digital library infrastructure nationwide. Recordings of those sessions are now available online, as is a summary report published by OCLC Research. Many of the following key themes from that meeting seem to fit quite well with the knowledge and expertise in the Digital Library Federation community.

Engaging, Mobilizing and Connecting Communities

  • Engaging users in national digital platform projects through crowdsourcing and other approaches
  • Establishing radical and systematic collaborations across sectors of the library, archives, and museum communities, as well as with other allied institutions
  • Championing diversity and inclusion by ensuring that the national digital platform serves and represents a wide range of communities

Establishing and Refining Tools and Infrastructure

  • Leveraging linked open data to connect content across institutions and amplify impact
  • Focusing on documentation and system interoperability across digital library software projects
  • Researching and developing tools and services that leverage computational methods to increase accessibility and scale practice across individual projects

Cultivating the Digital Library Workforce

  • Shifting to continuous professional learning as part of library professional practice
  • Focusing on hands-on training to develop computational literacy in formal library education programs
  • Educating librarians and archivists to meet the emerging digital needs of libraries and archives, including cross-training in technical and other skills

We’re looking to support these areas of work with the IMLS grant programs available to library applicants.

Margo Padilla
Margo Padilla, Strategic Programs Manager, Metropolitan New York Library Council, on the “Cultivating Digital Library Professionals” panel of the IMLS meeting, DC Public Library, April 28, 2015.

IMLS Funding Opportunities

IMLS has three major competitive grant programs for libraries, and we encourage the submission of proposals related to the national digital platform priority to all three. We imagine that many in the Digital Library Federation community could make significant contributions to this priority area through these programs. Those programs are:

  • National Leadership Grants for Libraries (NLG): The NLG program is specifically focused on supporting our two strategic priorities, the national digital platform and Learning in Libraries. The most competitive proposals will advance some area of library practice on a national scale, with new tools, research findings, alliances, or similar outcomes. The NLG program makes awards up to $2,000,000, with funds available for both project and planning grants. In developing proposals for this program it will likely be useful to read some of the grant proposals for the first four projects funded in this priority.
  • Laura Bush 21st Century Librarian Program (LB21): The LB21 program supports professional development, graduate education and continuing education for librarians and archivists. The LB21 program makes awards up to $500,000, and like NLG supports planning as well as project grants.
  • Sparks! Ignition Grants for Libraries: Sparks! grants support the development, testing, and evaluation of promising new tools, products, services, and practices. They often balance broad potential impact with an element of risk or innovation. The Sparks! program makes awards up to $25,000.

These programs can fund a wide range of activities. NLG and LB21 grants support projects, research, planning, and national forums (where grantees can hold meetings to gather stakeholders around a particular topic). The LB21 program also has a specific category for supporting early career LIS faculty research.

Application Process and Deadlines

Over the past year, IMLS piloted an exciting new model for our grant programs, which this year will be in place for both the NLG and LB21 programs. Rather than requiring a full application from every applicant, only a two-page preliminary proposal is due at the deadline. After a first round of peer review, a small subset of applicants will be invited to submit full proposals, and will have the benefit of the peer reviewers’ comments to assist in constructing the proposal. The full proposals will be reviewed by a second panel of peer reviewers before funding decisions are made. The Sparks! program goes through a single round of peer review, and requires the submission of a full proposal from all applicants.

The LB21 and NLG programs will both have a preliminary proposal application deadline on October 1, 2015, as well as another application deadline in February 2016.

Are you considering applying for an IMLS grant for your digital library project? Do you want to discuss which program might be the best fit for your proposal? We’re always happy to chat, and love hearing your project ideas, so please email us at (Emily) and (Trevor).

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