By Susan Hildreth
In his fifth State of the Union Address on January 28, President Obama called on the nation to make 2014 a year of action. He said, “I believe this can be a breakthrough year for America. After five years of grit and determined effort, the United States is better-positioned for the 21st century than any other nation on Earth.” The President recognized many people who are doing their part to “speed up growth, strengthen the middle class, and build new ladders of opportunity into the middle class.”
He talked about how important it is for children to have the opportunity to enter quality pre-K programs, and for students to have access to high-speed broadband and to “learn the skills for a new economy– problem solving, critical thinking, science, technology, engineering, and math.”
As I reflect on the activities of IMLS during the few weeks since the President’s address, it is clear that libraries and museums are key community institutions that have a significant role to play in spurring innovation and opportunity for all. Let me give you a snapshot:
On February 3, our office was humming with energy as Dr. David Willis, MD, Division Director for The Health Resource and Services Administration (HRSA) and I, together with First Book, convened a one-day strategic dialogue between public and private national stakeholders to share commitments and innovations that promote early literacy by strengthening parents as first teachers and by building the local communities around them.
On February 4 and 5, I was in Nashville with the MacArthur Foundation to hear from our “learning lab” grantees. We heard exciting findings of the evaluation of the program, which will be released later this spring. For me, the most encouraging finding was that this program has provided opportunities for older teens with significant academic challenges who are often the most difficult to reach.
On February 5, we were watching when the FCC Chairman Wheeler recognized the importance of libraries for access to broadband for students and for adults. He said, “In community after community the library is the only place where students can go after school for free Internet access to complete their assignments… And during the summer, libraries are the only place for many students to go to continue their online exploration and learning. Libraries are also the only place where tens of millions of adult Americans can get access to the Internet for information on jobs, health care and government services.” (See more at: http://blog.imls.gov/?p=4586#sthash.7Jn7xD1s.dpuf)
On February 4, together with the United States Citizen and Immigration Services Agency, we hosted a webinar for library staff who want to help residents on the pathway to opportunity and citizenship. And on February 17 I joined Congressman Rush Holt and N.J. State Librarian Mary Chute on a conference call for library staff who are helping to meet the health information needs of their communities.
And just last week, IMLS hosted our annual WebWise conference, where hundreds of library and museum professionals participated in dozens of programs and demonstrations that showcased innovative libraries and museums. There were sessions on maker spaces that empower young entrepreneurs, helping them to create new products and services and to develop business plans; tips on finding revenue for digital projects and making smart evaluation decisions; and much more.
So much of what we are working on aligns with the themes of the President’s address; we have gotten our “year of action” off to a great start! It is an exciting time to be an innovator in a library or museum! Please continue to share your good work with us.