Connected Communities in an Age of Digital Learning

By Susan H. Hildreth
Director, IMLS

Last week I had the pleasure of participating in a panel at the New America Foundation that focused on reports from libraries and schools across the country that they do not have necessary broadband speeds and equipment to support the digital learning environment that the public needs today. We talked about both the technological infrastructure (hardware, software, connectivity) and the social infrastructure (trained librarians and teachers, high-quality content) that are needed for truly “connected communities.”

With the President’s ConnectED effort and FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler’s call to modernize the E-rate program, libraries have a unique and urgent opportunity to act. I urge you to take an hour and listen to the webcast of this important discussion.

People sitting at computers at Hartford Public Library.

A job and career center equipped with computers Hartford Public Library.

I was particularly struck by the remarks of former FCC Chairman Reed Hundt. He was chairman in 1996 when the E-rate first came into being and he has for a special interest in libraries. He called the E-rate the single largest investment in libraries and schools since the GI Bill. He noted that one-third of Americans do not have access to the Internet. While not diminishing the need for students to have access, he noted the particular needs of adults, especially people who are retired or unemployed.

One of the issues the library community is wrestling with is how to identify a target measure for library connectivity. Libraries report insufficient speeds, but can we know, measure, and report what is needed to get the necessary bandwidth to patrons?  Hundt says we need to know how much bandwidth is needed in the library per user at peak hours.

Most of the national dialogue about the E-rate has focused on schools. I believe there is eagerness at the FCC to hear from libraries. At IMLS we will take a leadership role by holding a hearing to get libraries’ experiences on the record. The hearing will be held in mid-April and will focus on the following:

1) The Vision: What happens when we get it right?

2) The Data: What do we know now and what do we need to know?

3) The Stakes: What is at risk if we are not able to meet public needs for connections in communities and in libraries?

Please look for an announcement about the hearing and take the opportunity to join the conversation.

Posted in 21st Century Skills, Broadband | Comments Off

Anchoring Communities at WebWise 2014

By Robert Horton
Associate Deputy Director for Library Services, IMLS

IMLS’s annual WebWise conference returned to Baltimore in 2014, hosting plenary speakers, workshops, and an unconference from February 10-12. The theme was “Anchoring Communities,” and the goal was to provide as many opportunities as possible for the 270 participants to learn about the most exciting and pressing issues affecting libraries, archives, and museums.

Participants of the conference looks on as a presenter points at a screen.

Patrick Murray-John from the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media at George Mason University facilitated a session introducing folks to the version control system known as Git and GitHub.

The two-and-a-half-day conference explored digital technologies in museums and libraries through workshops, talks, and demonstrations. The idea that technology provides us with an opportunity, rather than just another challenge or problem, was at the heart of two fantastic plenaries.

Nick Poole, from the UK’s Collections Trust, started the conference with a presentation both eloquent and engaging: “Make it Personal: Developing Services that People Love.” He noted, “This age demands museums, archives, and libraries that are personal, local, emotional, authentic, and relevant. In a time of social, economic, and political change, people need us to be honest, accountable, and unafraid. They don’t need to understand what we do, or how we do it, but they do need us to help them find their place in it.” (Nick posted the transcript of his talk just after delivering it.)

Mary Flanagan, Sherman Fairchild Distinguished Professor in Digital Humanities at Dartmouth College, closed the conference with an eye-opening presentation on the importance of games: “Play with Your Metadata.” One of the most important points she made was that technologies are built with values embedded, intentionally or unintentionally; and that more intent would be better.

WebWise 2014

Andrew Haight, Oregon Museum of Science and Industry; Bill Derry, Westport Library; Tim Carrigan, Institute of Museum and Library Services; Rebecca Grabman, Pittsburgh Children’s Museum; Erica Compton, Idaho Commission for Libraries during a session on makers.

The topics of the workshops and the unconference sessions (called “WiseCamp”) were determined by the participants by voting for topics of interest using the interactive platform IdeaScale and through discussion amongst the WebWise planning committee. Workshops included sessions on digital preservation, makerspaces, badges, oral histories, and more. WiseCamp sessions addressed issues such as gender, technology, and leadership; museums and the Digital Public Library of America; collecting social media; and K-12 and the common core standards. For a review of the complete schedule of WebWise, visit

Throughout the conference, a Twitter feed display encouraged a running exchange of ideas by active tweeters on site and provided context to the events for followers on social media. You can see the Twitter conversations at the conference hashtag #WebWise14.

Every year, the success of WebWise depends on the energy and ideas of IMLS staff, notably, Tim Carrigan and Sandra Narva, and IMLS partners, the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media and Capitol Meeting Planning. Thanks for joining us for another year of museums, libraries, archives, systems science, education, and many other fields joining together in the interest of high-quality online content for inquiry and learning.

Posted in 21st Century Skills, Education Support, WebWise | 2 Comments

A Year of Action

By Susan Hildreth
Director, IMLS

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:

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.


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Tackling the Climate Change Conversation: Community of Practice Starts with IMLS Grant

By John C. Anderson
Director of Education, New England Aquarium

Museums and libraries work to shape the world to be better – better informed, healthier, more vibrant, more just or more sustainable. In 2008, IMLS funded the “Ocean Change Education Aquarium Network” (OCEAN), which set out to build capacity and a community of practice centered on a commitment to fostering productive, solutions-oriented conversations with visitors about climate and ocean change. That project seeded a lot more good work.

OCEAN began in 2007 after a handful of aquarium CEOs indicated staff training to address climate change issues was a high priority. The project sought to address this priority by bringing leading educators together with experts in ocean sciences and social sciences. Dr. Steve Katona reviewed recent ocean and climate science research, and leaders of the FrameWorks Institute taught the group about “strategic framing” – a research-based approach to communication. The experts met with pairs of colleagues from participating aquariums (New England Aquarium, Aquarium of the Pacific, Birch Aquarium at Scripps, Monterey Bay Aquarium, National Aquarium in Baltimore, and Vancouver Aquarium [not funded by IMLS]) annually in person and monthly by phone to learn, share, and practice.

Four Study Circle participants work to develop a poster.

Four Study Circle participants work to develop a poster.

At first the work was difficult, as participants tried to internalize and assimilate content that can be both intellectually and emotionally challenging. With time, practice, and support, participants found strategic framing compelling and useful for shaping training and programs at their own institutions. Colleagues shared reflections with each other and compiled resulting training information onto the Climate Interpreter website.

Relationships and learning stimulated by OCEAN fostered new collaborations and project proposals. In 2009, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) granted a collaborative award to the New England Aquarium, the National Aquarium in Baltimore, and the Monterey Bay Aquarium, supporting development of small tabletop activities, youth training, and the development of the Climate Interpreter website to build a virtual community of practice among informal science center (ISC) educators. Activities posted include “EcoFootprint,” “Biomimicry,” and “Sink or Source.”

In 2010, the National Science Foundation’s (NSF) Climate Change Education Partnership program funded the National Network for Ocean and Climate Change Interpretation (NNOCCI). Some familiar colleagues from OCEAN joined with new partners to develop a plan for deeper and broader impact through study circles comprising pairs of colleagues from ten ISCs with pairs of early career ocean scientists from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. Each study circle gathers in person three times over six months with online learning activities between meetings. In addition, NNOCCI added new layers of evaluation and impact assessment to deepen understanding about educators’ learning experiences and how and to what effect they are using what they learn.

Results of the pilot NNOCCI project showed that participating educators felt more hopeful and more confident about their capacity to make a positive difference by stimulating positive conversations about climate change. They also increased the frequency of these conversations. Based on positive aspects of the pilot, NNOCCI developed a successful proposal for a five-year NSF implementation grant, awarded in 2012. As of January 2014, more than 100 colleagues from 50 informal science education centers have participated in five study circles with eleven more circles to be implemented over the next three years. The project will offer training and community support for about 280 lead interpreters from 140 ISCs and 30 early career ocean scientists. Collectively, these participants have the potential to reach thousands of other educators and volunteer docents, and tens of millions of visitors.

Through this extensive work, started with IMLS funding, we are confident that ISCs can help us reach a tipping point in the public conversation about climate change and the oceans. The result will be more frequent dialog that is engaging and that orients participants toward productive, creative, and solutions-oriented ideas about how each of us is empowered to shape the world.


Suggested Readings:

Anderson, J.C. and Williams, A.M. 2013. Engaging Visitors to Create Positive Futures. Journal of Museum Education, Volume 38, Number 3, October 2013, pp. 256–259

Falk, J.H.; Reinhard, E.M.; Vernon, C.L.; Bronnenkant, K.; Deans, N.L.; Heimlich, J.E., (2007). Why Zoos & Aquariums Matter: Assessing the Impact of a Visit. Association of Zoos & Aquariums. Silver Spring, MD.

Posted in 21st Century Museum Professionals, Environment and Energy | Comments Off

Amplifying Kids Voices at Phipps Conservatory, Pittsburgh

Ed. Note: This blog was originally posted on To view the original post, click here.

Posted by Hannah E. Hardy, Director of Programming and Operations, Let’s Move Pittsburgh, Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens

One year after First Lady Michelle Obama launched the Let’s Move! initiative, museums, zoos, gardens, and science and technology centers joined the call to action through Let’s Move! Museums and Gardens. With their impressive reach and great potential for impact, museums and gardens across the country are launching community efforts to create a healthier generation using interactive exhibits, outdoor spaces, gardens, and programs that encourage families to eat healthy foods and increase physical activity.

Elementary school children in Pittsburgh, PA record their stories about food security and nutrition as part of Hear Me.

Elementary school children in Pittsburgh, PA record their stories about food security and nutrition as part of Hear Me. Photo courtesy of Hear Me

In Pittsburgh, PA, the Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens, through the Let’s Move Pittsburgh organization, is partnering with Hear Me and the Southwestern PA Food Security Partnership to amplify kids’ voices about food security and good nutrition.

“I didn’t know that breakfast at school even existed. Kids who don’t have breakfast? I guess they just don’t have anything to eat in the morning…I don’t think that would be fair to do something like that to a kid.”

– Zoe, 10, Pittsburgh (

Visitors to Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens will get to hear first-hand the importance of good nutrition and food security directly from local children. Through the Hear Me platform, kids are using media and technology to create a world where they are heard, acknowledged, and understood, giving them the power to inspire social change. Hear Me amplifies kids’ voices by recording students talking about the importance of a specific topic and then placing the recordings around Pittsburgh in public locations. For the current recordings, Hear Me partnered with the Southwestern PA Food Security Partnership to record kids talking about food security and nutrition. “Through this partnership, we hope to bring students’ real experiences to the discussion and increase the level of access kids have to school breakfast and healthy food,” said Ryan Hoffman, project coordinator of Hear Me.

This was a perfect fit for Let’s Move Pittsburgh and Phipps. While children are playing in the indoor market area learning about healthy food choices, parents can go to the Hear Me kiosk and listen to David, a student, talk about the importance of eating a good breakfast. If you want to hear more from David and all of the students who recorded stories as part of this campaign please visit the food and security campaign page.

Learn more about Let’s Move! Museums and Gardens and visit a participating museum or garden in your area.

Posted in Health, Let's Move! Museums & Gardens | Comments Off