The IMLS Sparks! Ignition Grants for Libraries and Museums are a new IMLS funding opportunity within the National Leadership Grants program. These grants encourage libraries, archives, and museums to challenge existing assumptions about how they operate and the services they provide. These small grants support the deployment, testing, and evaluation of promising and groundbreaking new tools, products, services, or organizational practices. Applicants may propose activities or approaches that involve risk, as long as the risk is balanced by significant potential for improvement in the ways cultural heritage institutions serve their communities.
Successful proposals will address problems, challenges, or needs of broad relevance to libraries, archives, and/or museums, will test innovative responses to these problems, and will make the findings of these tests widely and openly accessible. To maximize the benefit of federal investments, the Sparks! Ignition Grants for Libraries and Museums will fund projects with the following characteristics:
- Broad Potential Impact—Applicants should identify a specific problem or need that is important to many libraries, archives, and/or museums, and propose a testable and measurable solution to the problem. Proposals must demonstrate a thorough understanding of current issues and practices in the project’s focus area and discuss the project’s potential impact within libraries, archives, and/or museums. Proposed innovations should be widely adoptable or adaptable.
- Significant Innovation—The proposed solution to the identified problem must offer strong potential for non-incremental, significant advancement in the operation of libraries, archives, and/or museums. Applicants must explain how the proposed activity differs from current practices or exploits an unexplored opportunity, and the potential benefit to be gained by this innovation.
Institutions of all sizes and types are encouraged to develop projects that meet the specific needs of their counterparts across the country. Examples of projects that might be funded by this program include, but are not limited to:
- exploring the potential of highly original, experimental collaborations,
- implementing new workflows or processes with potential for substantial cost savings,
- testing new metrics or methods to measure the impact of promising tools or services,
- rapid prototyping and testing of new types of software tools, or creating useful new ways to link separate software applications used in libraries, archives, or museums,
- offering innovative new types of services or new service options to library, archive, or museum visitors, or
- enhancing institutions’ abilities to interact with audiences in new ways to promote learning or improve services, such as through the deployment of innovative crowd-sourcing techniques.
Grant funding for such activities may include all activities associated with planning, deploying, and evaluating the innovation, as long as the expense is allowable under federal and IMLS regulations and guidelines. Sparks! Ignition Grant funds may not be used for:
- evaluation of an existing program or service,
- projects that are only for planning,
- projects that are only for research (as distinguished from experimentation),
- projects that are limited to existing and traditional approaches to exhibitions, performances, or other types of public programs,
- projects that involve mainly digitization, unless the applicant is proposing an innovative method for digitization,
- activities that will produce only incremental improvements in operational or business processes,
- support of conferences or professional meetings, or
- acquisition of equipment in excess of 50 percent of the total funds requested from IMLS.
The Sparks! Ignition Grants intentionally are designed to foster broad sharing of information about project findings. Successful proposals are expected to include innovative and well-rounded communication plans that exploit multiple media and technologies to share project information with targeted audiences. Additionally, grant recipients at the end of the project will be required to submit a five- to ten-page white paper that IMLS will disseminate widely. This paper will describe the identified problem or need, original project goals, and the innovation tested, and report the findings and lessons learned through the activity. Grant recipients also will be expected to participate in a January 2012 online discussion among all the 2011 Sparks! Ignition Grants awardees.
Sparks! Ignition Grants range from $10,000 to $25,000. IMLS will review and negotiate budgets as necessary. IMLS may award an amount less than that requested by an applicant. If IMLS funding is requested for salaries of permanent staff, the proposal should explain how their regular duties will be performed during the grant period.
Eligibility for Libraries and Archives
An eligible applicant must be:
- either a unit of state or local government or a private nonprofit organization that has tax-exempt status under the Internal Revenue Code;
- located in one of the 50 states of the United States of America, the District of Columbia, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, Guam, American Samoa, the Virgin Islands, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, the Republic of the Marshall Islands, the Federated States of Micronesia, or the Republic of Palau; and
- one of the six types of organizations listed below:
- a library or a parent organization, such as a school district, a municipality, a state agency, or an academic institution, that is responsible for the administration of a library. Eligible libraries include public libraries, elementary and secondary school libraries, college and university libraries, research libraries and archives that are not an integral part of an institution of higher education and that make publicly available library services and materials that are suitable for scholarly research and not otherwise available,1 and private or special libraries that have been deemed eligible to participate in this program by the state in which the library is located,
- an academic or administrative unit, such as a graduate school of library and information science that is part of an institution of higher education through which it would make application,
- a digital library, if it makes library materials publicly available and provides library services, including selection, organization, description, reference, and preservation, under the supervision of at least one permanent professional staff librarian,
- a library agency that is an official agency of a state or other unit of government and is charged by the law governing it with the extension and development of public library services within its jurisdiction,
- a library consortium that is a local, statewide, regional, interstate, or international cooperative association of library entities that provides for the systematic and effective coordination of the resources of eligible libraries, as defined above, and information centers that work to improve the services delivered to the clientele of these libraries, or
- a library association that exists on a permanent basis, serves libraries or library professionals on a national, regional, state, or local level, and engages in activities designed to advance the well-being of libraries and the library profession.
Eligibility for Museums
An eligible applicant must be:
- either a unit of state or local government or a private nonprofit organization that has tax-exempt status under the Internal Revenue Code,
- be located in one of the fifty states of the United States, the District of Columbia, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, Guam, American Samoa, the Virgin Islands, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, the Republic of the Marshall Islands, the Federated States of Micronesia, or the Republic of Palau,
- and qualify as one of the following three types of organizations:
- a museum2 that, using a professional staff,3
• is organized on a permanent basis for essentially educational or aesthetic purposes;
• owns or uses tangible objects, either animate or inanimate;
cares for these objects; and
• exhibits these objects to the general public on a regular basis through facilities that it owns or operates4.
- an organization or association that engages in activities designed to advance the well-being of museums and the museum profession,5 or
- an institution of higher education, including public and nonprofit universities.
Please note that a museum located within a parent organization that is a state or local government or multipurpose not-for-profit entity, such as a municipality, university, historical society, foundation, or cultural center, may apply on its own behalf if the museum (1) is able to independently fulfill all the eligibility requirements listed above , (2) functions as a discrete unit within the parent organization , (3) has its own fully segregated and itemized operating budget , and (4) has the authority to make the application on its own. When any of the last three conditions cannot be met, a museum may apply through its parent organization, and the parent organization may submit a single application for one or more of its museums.