In Your State: Priorities for IMLS-Funded Library Services

Young adventurers explore a bookmobile. (Photo courtesy of the Brooklyn Public Library / Gregg Richards.)

Teri DeVoe, Associate Deputy Director for State Programs
Office of Library Services, Grants to States program

Every five years, all U.S. states and territories create plans for how they will use Institute of Museum and Library Services’ library grant funding. Taken as a whole, these plans provide insight into the priorities of the larger library ecosystem. IMLS’s recent analysis of the 56 plans revealed that most state libraries are focused on providing their communities with access to information, reaching underserved populations, and growing partnerships with other government agencies.

IMLS Grant to States Program

IMLS’s Grants to States program enables state and territory government agencies, known as State Library Administrative Agencies (SLAAs), to prioritize how they spend their federal library funds. As part of this program, the 56 SLAAs prepare plans every five years that detail how they will use the funding.

The latest round of Five-Year Plans lay out goals for IMLS-funded library services from 2018 to 2022. These plans provide states an opportunity to set priorities and give a directional compass for IMLS’s largest grant program. As with the earlier report on the states’ third-party evaluations, these five-year plans tell a national story about federal library funding.

Together with the Office of Digital and Information Strategy, the Grants to States team analyzed the most recent plans and focused on three aspects:

  • What types of programs did state libraries prioritize?
  • How did the states align their goals with IMLS’s six focal areas used in Grants to States annual reporting, which include areas such as information access and lifelong learning?
  • How do state libraries plan to cooperate with other federal and state agencies?

Similarities Across States

Just as U.S. states and territories differ widely, so do the priorities related to their library funds. However, several themes cropped up in many of the Five-Year Plans that are related to IMLS priorities and initiatives. These trends paint a national picture of how libraries are helping support communities throughout the country.

Nearly two-thirds of the state plans called out Libraries for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (or Talking Book services) as a priority. These programs provide access to reading materials in alternate formats. In recent years, more than 10 percent of all Grants to States funding, tens of millions of dollars, go to support these kinds of services. These programs reflect IMLS priorities, such as increasing access to library services and reaching underserved populations.

The focus on these library programs also speaks to the larger ecosystem of library services across the U.S. The National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped at the Library of Congress coordinates a network of libraries across the states, but the local and state levels lack dedicated federal funding streams. IMLS Grants to States funding often fills that gap.

More than half the states also focused on rural populations, broadband, and community workforce development (separate from the training of library staff). Broadband includes important technology infrastructure for libraries, such as digital access, devices, tools, and services. Rural populations and workforce development efforts often intersect with broadband needs.

All three of these areas speak to libraries providing their communities with access to information and lifelong learning. These priorities are not only reflected in the IMLS legislation, but are also front and center in the agency’s strategic plan.

IMLS Focal Areas

In their plans, states align each of their goals with one or more of the six IMLS focal areas, the broad categories that structure Grants to States annual reporting. In this analysis, the team looked at these state-level assignments in aggregate, with the highest concentration in institutional capacity, information access, and lifelong learning.

The 2018–2022 categories are similar to those used in the previous five year plans. This allowed IMLS to compare how states’ goals have changed during the past half-decade. The less frequently assigned categories saw prominent increases. The civic engagement focal area increased 74 percent. Human services, which encompasses household finances, health and wellness, and parenting and family skills, increased 52 percent. As states continue to use the IMLS focal areas as a framework for reporting on federally-funded projects, it will be interesting to see if these categories reflect similar shifts over time.

Collaboration with Other Agencies

All but two State Library Administrative Agencies indicated that they planned to coordinate with other government agencies, such as elementary and secondary education, workforce development and early childhood. Partnerships are critical in helping to solidify and scale library efforts, so it’s gratifying to see evidence of widespread coordination efforts among the states.

The most popular partnerships were with Elementary or Secondary Education agencies. These programs focused on advancing early learning, reading initiatives, or other programs targeted to students. Of those that specified other agencies, multiple SLAA’s indicated state and federal collaborators, and a few specified a dozen other state offices.

More Grants to States Resources

The Five-Year Plans represent a major effort for the Grants to States program and helps us tell a national story about federal library funding. In order to provide a better state-level picture, IMLS summarized the Grants to States efforts on the newly refreshed state profile pages. Check out this section to learn more about a specific state, read project examples, view plan highlights, and obtain state library contact information.

About the Author
 Teri DeVoe, Associate Deputy Director for State Programs, leads the Office of Library Services Grants to States program at IMLS. She can be reached at