With all the budget cuts, its easy to think that Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) doesn’t have as much impact as other programs. Sometimes, it seems like the same libraries benefit and other libraries (school libraries, rural libraries) feel left out. But sometimes things is not as they seem. IMLS’ impact can be felt even if your library has not directly benefitted.
Let’s look at my library. I am in a small, rural, public school library. I have applied for LSTA grants multiple times unsuccessfully, I tried applying for an IMLS grant unsuccessfully. Even though I have not received money directly through them, I’ve benefitted indirectly from grant reciepients. One goal of IMLS grants is to move the library profession forward. Their strategic plan focuses on innovation, lifelong learning, and cultural and civic engagement. Many of their grants provide professional development for librarian professionals and educators.
I’ve had the privledge of participating in two mentoring programs at the state level funded by IMLS and LSTA. The first was Pennsylvania School Library Association’s (PSLA) Emerging Leaders Program. This program connected me with mentors, other strong librarians, and helped me grow a network of professionals that I still rely on. Rural librarianship has a tendancy to leave professionals feeling isolated and inadequate. I know that I would not be the same professional today if I didn’t access to this mentoring program early in my career. Working with other educators to see what they were doing acrss the state broadened my horizons and encouraged me to work harder for my students make sure they were as competitive as students from across the state. We were able to compare curriculum, technology, instructional strategies, library management, and programming ideas. Now I try and pay it foward and connect with other librarians face to face and online, promoting programs like the Emerging Leaders Program. As a young librarian, my goal has always been to keep myself centered and avoid feeling isolated. These opportunities have helped me flourish.
The second program was Pennsylvania’s ILEADUSA. This program did end up with grant money going toward my library, but the more important part came from the professional development that came with the program. This was an immersive program where we worked with a team to develop a project and expand our technology skills. These trainings opened my eyes to the great things going on in all types of libraries across the state.
I admit that I mostly speak to school librarians and view many problems through a school librarian’s lense. It was refreshing to see life through the eyes of a public or academic librarian. They had a different way of approaching problems and a different view. Although all three types of libraries promote life long learning, we all have drastically different ways of implementing it. In the school library, it is very direct. We give them lessons, maybe some clubs, but it is very structured. Academia is more hands off. Students are given a menu of options and very little structure. Public Libraries have to market themselves and develop programming depending on the needs of their community. Both public and academic don’t have a captive audience like I do. Talking with librarians from these settings made me realize that I could have a balance in how I encourage life long learning.
Programs led by IMLS give me a chance to grow as a professional. They help me think of new ways to service my students. They force me to step back and reflect on my school and my program and think how I can improve it. IMLS empowers me to be a better librarian and serve my community and my students in the best way I can.