A Natural Cultural Partnership: Libraries, Museums, and Government

By Whitwell, Stuart | American Libraries, April 1997 | Go to article overview

A Natural Cultural Partnership: Libraries, Museums, and Government


Whitwell, Stuart, American Libraries


THE DIRECTOR OF THE NEW INSTITUTE OF MUSEUM AN D LIBRARY SERVICES TALKS ABOUT SHARED PROBLEMS & OPPORTUNITIES

The creation by Congress of the Institute for Museum and Library Services last year (AL, Nov. 1996, p. 11) brings a new set of questions to the issue of federal funding for libraries. How will libraries fare when they are moved out of the Department of Education in the FY 1998 federal budget? Will the coupling of libraries and museums mean unprecedented cooperation between these venerable institutions?

American Libraries Associate Publisher Stuart Whitwell visited Institute of Museum and Library Services Director Diane Frankel in her office at 1100 Pennsylvania Avenue February 14 during ALA's Midwinter Meeting in Washington D.C. and invited her to talk about what this new partnership means for libraries.

AL: Was moving libraries out of the Department of Education and merging them with the Institute of Museum Services a bureaucratic move or a philosophical one?

DF: It was definitely a bureaucratic one, but I think it was a philosophical one in the sense that a number of libraries, especially state library agencies, felt that the programs that had accrued over the years had become difficult to administer and that they wanted a much more simplified plan that would give them maximum flexibility in their states.

AL: Is this going to make a difference to the librarian in the field, perhaps running a small library far from Washington?

DF: Sure, just as it would for a small museum. Whenever you have the opportunity to make the case for why these institutions are so important in their communities, that impacts the large museum and the large library as well as the small. It makes you feel that you're part of a much bigger initiative across the United States and I think that's important to realize - that while you're toiling in a small area, there is this major need for museums and libraries and what they can provide for the community. In terms of the dailiness of what people do, I hope that as we look at some of the national leadership initiatives people in small institutions will let us know what their needs and concerns are.

AL: Many librarians have felt their needs were lost in the Department of Education. Will they see a difference now?

DF: The law is so much more simplified now that they will definitely see a difference. What came as a surprise to me is that when President Clinton announced his budget, we sent out a press release as we usually do. Many librarians were very surprised, and I think pleasantly surprised, that they would get that kind of recognition. But that is something we routinely do. A lot of this has to do with how you fit in your community. Libraries are changing dramatically, and I think that the issues around technology and how they serve as information centers in the community can change the way libraries are perceived.

AL: How much of that is inspired by the need for cultural institutions having to make a case for their continued existence in an age of diminishing public funds?

DF: I went into museums as a museum educator. That was the path I chose because I believe passionately that they are educational institutions. I've been saying that for 20 years, and so I'm not just saying that because it's the politically correct thing to say, or to help me make my case. Education can be defined in so many ways. You and I could disagree on its meaning. But I think what may have changed is that museums have understood that they need to serve a more diverse audience. Librarians have always understood that.

AL: You have described museums and libraries as "community anchors." Does this mean you see them working together? Or will they work in parallel?

DF: I think that from the kinds of examples we're getting, there are already more museums and libraries working together than I thought there were, in a whole variety of communities. …

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