Get Involved in the National Digital Platform for Libraries

Editor’s note: This is a guest post by Emily Reynolds and Trevor Owens.

Recently IMLS has increased its focus on funding digital library projects through the lens of our National Digital Platform strategic priority area. The National Digital Platform is the combination of software applications, social and technical infrastructure, and staff expertise that provides library content and services to all users in the U.S… in other words, it’s the work many LITA members are already doing!

Participants at IMLS Focus: The National Digital Platform

Participants at IMLS Focus: The National Digital Platform

As libraries increasingly use digital infrastructure to provide access to digital content and resources, there are more and more opportunities for collaboration around the tools and services that they use to meet their users’ needs. It is possible for each library in the country to leverage and benefit from the work of other libraries in shared digital services, systems, and infrastructure. We’re looking at ways to maximize the impact of our funds by encouraging collaboration, interoperability, and staff training. We are excited to have this chance to engage with and invite participation from the librarians involved in LITA in helping to develop and sustain this national digital platform for libraries.

National Digital Platform convening report

National Digital Platform convening report

Earlier this year, IMLS held a meeting at the DC Public Library to convene stakeholders from across the country to identify opportunities and gaps in existing digital library infrastructure nationwide. Recordings of those sessions are now available online, as is a summary report published by OCLC Research. Key themes include:

 

Engaging, Mobilizing and Connecting Communities

  • Engaging users in national digital platform projects through crowdsourcing and other approaches
  • Establishing radical and systematic collaborations across sectors of the library, archives, and museum communities, as well as with other allied institutions
  • Championing diversity and inclusion by ensuring that the national digital platform serves and represents a wide range of communities

Establishing and Refining Tools and Infrastructure

  • Leveraging linked open data to connect content across institutions and amplify impact
  • Focusing on documentation and system interoperability across digital library software projects
  • Researching and developing tools and services that leverage computational methods to increase accessibility and scale practice across individual projects

Cultivating the Digital Library Workforce

  • Shifting to continuous professional learning as part of library professional practice
  • Focusing on hands-on training to develop computational literacy in formal library education programs
  • Educating librarians and archivists to meet the emerging digital needs of libraries and archives, including cross-training in technical and other skills

We’re looking to support these areas of work with the IMLS grant programs available to library applicants.

IMLS Funding Opportunities

IMLS has three major competitive grant programs for libraries, and we encourage the submission of proposals related to the National Digital Platform priority to all three. Those programs are:

  • National Leadership Grants for Libraries (NLG): The NLG program is specifically focused on supporting our two strategic priorities, the National Digital Platform and Learning in Libraries. The most competitive proposals will advance some area of library practice on a national scale, with new tools, research findings, alliances, or similar outcomes. The NLG program makes awards up to $2,000,000, with funds available for both project and planning grants.
  • Laura Bush 21st Century Librarian Program (LB21): The LB21 program supports professional development, graduate education and continuing education for librarians and archivists. The LB21 program makes awards up to $500,000, and like NLG supports planning as well as project grants.
  • Sparks! Ignition Grants for Libraries: Sparks! grants support the development, testing, and evaluation of promising new tools, products, services, and practices. They often balance broad potential impact with an element of risk or innovation. The Sparks! program makes awards up to $25,000.

These programs can fund a wide range of activities. NLG and LB21 grants support projects, research, planning, and national forums (where grantees can hold meetings to gather stakeholders around a particular topic). The LB21 program also has a specific category for supporting early career LIS faculty research.

Application Process and Deadlines

Over the past year, IMLS piloted an exciting new model for our grant application process, which this year will be in place for both the NLG and LB21 programs. Rather than requiring a full application from every applicant, only a two-page preliminary proposal is due at the deadline. After a first round of peer review, a small subset of applicants will be invited to submit full proposals, and will have the benefit of the peer reviewers’ comments to assist in constructing the proposal. The full proposals will be reviewed by a second panel of peer reviewers before funding decisions are made. The Sparks! program goes through a single round of peer review, and requires the submission of a full proposal from all applicants.

The LB21 and NLG programs will both have a preliminary proposal application deadline on October 1, 2015, as well as an additional application deadline in February, 2016.

Are you considering applying for an IMLS grant for your digital library project? Do you want to discuss which program might be the best fit for your proposal? We’re always happy to chat, and love hearing your project ideas, so please email us at ereynolds@imls.gov (Emily) and tjowens@imls.gov (Trevor).

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