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News February 17, 2017

Museums and Libraries as Catalytic Nodes of Strength

Policy Solutions produced a new report released by the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS), “Strengthening Networks, Sparking Change: Museums and Libraries as Community Catalysts.” This concludes a multifaceted, collaborative effort to study the ways museums and libraries spark positive community change. IMLS (the federal agency supporting the sector) engaged our team and UPenn’s Social Impact of the Arts Project (SIAP) to design and lead the project.

This work makes a unique contribution to understanding the role of museums and libraries by situating their work within SIAP’s “community social wellbeing” framework, which incorporates multiple factors, not just economics, into measuring neighborhood wellness. The effort included a literature review; site visits; museum/library staff interviews; and discussion with outside experts. A draft report was the centerpiece of a town hall-style gathering of 60 museum and library leaders. The final document includes standout examples in the field, provides tools and ideas to practitioners, and will guide future IMLS grant making.
Report highlights

  • Museums and libraries are part of institutional and interpersonal networks that support various dimensions of community social wellbeing, (e.g., cultural engagement, health, political voice, the environment).
  • The need for and impact of community-focused initiatives can be measured with any staff or budget size.
  • Three staff competencies support catalytic work (participatory community engagement, expertise in specific dimensions of wellbeing, technical know-how) and there are three ways to obtain them (training staff, hiring from different fields, partnerships).
  • Catalytic efforts succeed when commitment extends from line staff up to the executive office.

When using your MVAs for creating investment strategies, libraries and museums can be nodes of strength to build on in distressed and middle market areas.

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