The IMLS: An Investment in America

Libraries and museums are part of the fabric of American life. Their funding must be protected.

Feb 16 · 4 min read

As the primary source of federal funding for our nation’s libraries and museums, the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) plays a vital role in promoting lifelong learning and literacy for people of all ages, providing invaluable resources to help strengthen America’s cultural institutions and increase public access to the vast wealth of information, ideas, and networks that they have to offer. With its national reach and scope and the ability to spur innovation and creativity at the state, local, and tribal levels, the IMLS is nothing less than an investment in America itself.

According to the American Alliance of Museums, more than 850 million people visit museums in the United States every year — that’s more than the annual attendance for all major league sporting events and theme parks combined! Americans also go to libraries more often than they visit the movies, with the IMLS estimating that 4 million people visit their local public library every day. There are more libraries in the U.S. than there are Starbucks coffee shops and more museums than there are McDonald’s restaurants, making libraries and museums two of the oldest and most beloved of American franchises.

Public support for libraries and museums is overwhelmingly non-partisan in nature:

  • 97% of Americans believe that museums are educational assets for their communities and 98% feel that Federal funding for museums should be maintained or increased (source)
  • 90% of Americans surveyed consider the library to be “very” or “somewhat” important to their community (source)
  • 66% of people who have never used libraries themselves agree that libraries are essential (source)

Museums support more than 725,000 jobs and contribute $50 billion to the American economy each year, generating more than $12 billion in tax revenues. In fact, for every dollar received from government funding, museums return $5 in tax revenue — a rate of return that would make any venture capitalist green with envy. Libraries are also engines of economic growth and prosperity.

A study by the University of Minnesota calculated a similar return on investment for public libraries: $4.62 for libraries in Minnesota and a national mean of $4.23 for every tax dollar spent. Library use translates into direct savings for patrons as well: a person who checks out just one book or DVD a month from their local public library can save as much as $330 per year!

The mere presence of a well-funded library or museum can increase local property values and enhance the overall desirability of a neighborhood. According to an economics professor at Williams College, property values of homes near new museums can surge between 20 percent to 50 percent over a period of five years. Public libraries are often the anchors to downtown revitalization, with libraries serving as community hubs which promote job skills development, provide assistance to small businesses, and partner with local social services to better serve their communities. Over 99% of all public libraries in the United States also provide free internet access, serving as a vital on-ramp to the Information Superhighway to families who do not have digital connectivity at home.

Libraries and museums also have a positive impact on educational outcomes. Children who attend museums demonstrate higher achievement in reading, math, and science. Museums encourage a love for history and culture, inspire creativity and critical thinking, and boost language development; museums promote family bonding and kindle a passion for lifelong learning as well. Public libraries also boost student performance and play an invaluable role in the development of early literacy skills even before children attend kindergarten. Libraries teach information literacies, encourage reading for pleasure, and offer programs in experiential learning which supplement the traditional school curriculum and create learning opportunities for people of all ages.

America’s public libraries and museums are not mere luxuries, but integral parts of our nation’s educational, cultural, and creative infrastructure. They also represent a vision of diversity and inclusiveness which showcases our most fundamental values. By providing critical funding and support for museums and libraries and investing in our nation’s ideals the IMLS helps support the best of who we are — an act of confidence which has paid tremendous dividends to the American public over the past three decades and promises future similar returns for years to come.

Help ensure that libraries and museums have the support they need from Washington, DC.



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EveryLibrary fights for library funding. Any library budget anywhere should matter to every library everywhere. We are in this together.


Stories about libraries and librarians around America. We cover the breadth of experiences that people have through their libraries, and showcase the amazing people who work there.

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