The Most Important Government Agency You've Never Heard Of

Would you believe me if I told you that there is an independent government agency that runs on just .006% of the federal budget but affects the lives of either you or someone you know?

Oleg Kagan
Feb 23 · 4 min read

It’s true, despite using considerably less than 1% of the federal budget, the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) manages to fund distinctive projects and services that help communities all over the United States…and it’s on the chopping block yet again!

IMLS is a tiny government agency with a huge impact and the complex mission " advance, support, and empower America’s museums, libraries, and related organizations through grantmaking, research, and policy development." Fine, but what does that look like on the ground?

I'm glad you asked.

Thanks to IMLS, the Ohio' Willoughby-Eastlake Public Library launched a project called "If These Streets Could Talk: Uniting Cops and Kids Through Poetry" that used the literary arts to bring together students and law enforcement officers to increase understanding and goodwill, a connection that is sorely needed in many parts of our country!

In New Mexico, the IMLS funded “Libraries as Launchpads,” a collaboration between many stakeholders, including the New Mexico State Library, tribal libraries, and Creative Startups (a Santa Fe–based business accelerator), to enable innovation and increase entrepreneurship among New Mexico residents.

And just to highlight the variety of projects the IMLS funds, history and heritage buffs will be interested to learn that thanks to IMLS dollars, the Dumbarton House, the Georgetown headquarters of The National Society of the Colonial Dames of America, a historically significant building, and museum whose roots go back to 1799, will get an upgrade. This is just one of the ways that our cultural heritage is preserved directly as a result of the IMLS.

These three projects are just a pinky nail view of the amazing work that is made possible thanks to the Institute of Museum and Library Services (note: I wrote about ten more examples here), and it will all disappear if the administration gets its way and the IMLS is destroyed.

In my opinion, an American value is that everyone should get the opportunity to work hard and succeed in creating a happy life for themselves and their family. Libraries are so often referred to as the “People’s University” because they are a vital stepping stone for those born without massive wealth or social status. Shouldn’t they be available to everyone?

IMLS is an agency that closes some of the opportunity gaps that state, county, and city governments don’t or can’t; if you’ve ever wondered where funding for a great many tribal and rural libraries comes from, now you have your answer. Demolishing the IMLS is akin to saying, “Hey, if you live on a reservation or in a rural area, we don’t care whether you succeed!”

And it’s not simply rural residents or indigenous populations that will, through no fault of their own, lose out on library services if IMLS goes away, so will the blind. Why? Because while the program itself is administered by the National Library Service, it is the IMLS that funds the Talking Book Program, and other services to the visually-impaired, in around 40 states.

So if you or someone you know lives in a rural area, is visually-impaired, is part of an indigenous population, or is a regular visitor of their local library, you almost certainly know (or are) someone who has benefited from funding through this tiny, but mighty, government agency. If anything I’ve written above makes sense to you, contact your Congressional representatives right now and tell them how important it is that everyone gets a shot at the pursuit of happiness in our country.

Tell them that while so much in our government doesn’t work the way it’s supposed to, IMLS’s support for libraries all over the United States works exactly the way it’s supposed to! Tell them that you’re not one of those anti-government fundamentalists that cuts off their nose to spite their face by slashing at programs that directly benefit themselves, and their friends and neighbors.

Just like libraries, IMLS is a smart investment. And if you’re not sure about that, scroll up to the three projects I mentioned above and consider how many students, law enforcement officers, future New Mexico entrepreneurs, visitors to the Dumbarton House, their friends and family, and all those inspired by those good works cost. It isn’t free, but anyone will bet that it’s worth the nano-percentage of a penny in tax dollars you and I pay.

Let’s tell Congress to keep IMLS strong and give everyone a chance to succeed!

Image of United States budget and a link to
Image of United States budget and a link to
Don’t let the President’s proposed cuts to IMLS happen. Take the next step and help preserve federal funding for our nation’s museums and libraries.


Oleg Kagan

Written by

Writer and librarian. More at


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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