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Public-Private Partnership Engages Library, Museum Sectors to Develop Science-Based Information to Help Organizations Plan for a New Future

News Release, Institute for Museum and Library Services

Washington, DC—The Institute of Museum and Library Services, together with OCLC, Inc. and Battelle, announced a new collaboration to support the nation’s libraries and museums as they consider safe reopening practices in light of COVID-19.

Each year, people visit public libraries over 1.35 billion times, in addition to the approximately 850 million annual visits to American museums—the latter of which alone is more than the attendance for all major league sporting events and theme parks combined.

While most museums and libraries’ physical spaces are currently closed to the public, some are already working with local health officials to compile plans on when and how to safely reopen.

IMLS, the primary source of federal funding for museums and libraries, OCLC, a global library technology and research organization, and Battelle, a not-for-profit global research and development organization, have come together to help identify and respond to the needs of collecting institutions. Other federal contributors include the Smithsonian, the Library of Congress, and the National Archives and Records Administration.

IMLS took initial steps to help identify and respond to the needs of collecting institutions several weeks prior. On March 30, the agency hosted a webinar with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; the recording is available on the IMLS website.

IMLS, OCLC, and Battelle will also engage a steering committee drawn from the museum and library fields with the goal of understanding and mitigating the impact of the virus. Together, they will help support the curation and development of information on how to handle materials, training, and cleaning in support of safely reopening and sustaining operations under a COVID-19 reality.

As the national emergency has intensified, so has the concern over the handling of paper- and plastic-based, circulating, and the other types of collections and interactive exhibits managed by libraries, museums, and related organizations.

“Managing inventory and handling materials is a daily function of collecting institutions across America and the globe,” said IMLS Director Crosby Kemper. Collecting institutions in the U.S. hold more than 13 billion items, from furniture to photos and sheet music to soil samples, and the amount of loose paper in collections alone is enough to fill 347 Olympic-sized pools.

“The challenge of working with collections is compounded by inconclusive information on how the virus survives on surfaces and how—or if—different types of materials can be handled to mitigate exposure. As library systems, museums, and similar institutions across the United States plan for their reopening, an enhanced understanding of how to apply best practices in the context of local officials’ guidance is absolutely essential in mitigating risk to employees in handling collections and engaging with the public,” said Kemper.

“These unprecedented times call for unprecedented measures to protect people,” said Skip Prichard, OCLC President and CEO. “There is still a lot we have to learn about COVID-19 as we plan to reopen libraries and museums. Working with IMLS and Battelle, OCLC will be able to provide libraries and museums with the best research available to determine best practices for handling collections materials, and protecting the health and safety of staff and the communities they serve.”

“This project will likely not answer all the concerns around reopening, nor will it supersede community health guidance,” said Kemper. “However, it is part of a larger, critical effort to help the more than 140,000 libraries and museums across the country.”

On April 13, IMLS announced plans to distribute $30 million in CARES Act funding to all U.S. states, territories, the District of Columbia, and the Freely Associated States to help communities address the digital divide. This followed the agency’s April 6 release of new flexibilities for its nearly 1,300 open awards to provide relief for staff salaries and other pandemic-related operating expenses.

“We hope that by working together, we can aid communities by offering vital information as they consider reopening and beyond in a changed world,” said Kemper.

More details, as well as the anticipated timeline of results and information, will be available in the coming week. For the latest updates, subscribe to IMLS news and visit imls.gov/coronavirus.


David M. Higgins II, Publisher/Editor

David M. Higgins was born in Baltimore and grew up in Southern Maryland. He has had a passion for journalism since high school. After spending many years in the Hospitality Industry he began working in...