The Institute of Museum and Library Services, in partnership with Reinvestment Fund, have released a new study, Understanding the Social Wellbeing Impacts of the Nation’s Libraries and Museums, which examines the role of museums and libraries in promoting social wellbeing in communities across the United States.
The multi-year, multi-market study found the presence and usage of public libraries and museums to be positively associated with multiple dimensions of social wellbeing—in particular, community health, school effectiveness, institutional connection, and cultural opportunity.
The research, led by Reinvestment Fund, in partnership with the University of Pennsylvania’s Social Impact of the Arts Project (SIAP) and HR&A Advisors, uncovered findings about the similarities of library and museum impact in communities but also underscored the differences and related challenges that come with applying the same analytical approach to two different sectors.
Highlights from the study include:
- Libraries and museums are increasingly critical actors supporting social service provision in the communities they serve. In many places these institutions are stepping into gaps left by depleted, or absent, public sector supports for education, public health, and social services. The roles they are taking on to fill these gaps often stretch their organizational capacity and missions in an effort to address resident needs that have historically been served by the public sector.
- Libraries and museums are trusted institutions in their communities. They are places people go to get information they know is reliable. They are places people go to meet other people, learn new things, engage with the institutions’ collections, and to enjoy themselves and the company of others. These trusted community institutions function as a “third place” (or “third space”) where people congregate outside of home or work in informal ways that build community.
- Libraries and museums can be catalysts in their communities to promote racial equity and inclusion. The reality that these institutions are highly networked in their communities, widely perceived as trusted organizations, and hosts to diverse populations who circulate through their spaces make libraries and museums potential catalysts to advance racial equity and inclusion in their communities.
- It’s all about the networks. Libraries and museums are critical components of institutional and social networks. In smaller, more remote areas, they are often indispensable resources for local residents. The value these institutions provide flows from the connections they facilitate between individuals, groups, and other organizations. The vast majority of libraries and museums are not large employers and will never provide the muscle to significantly drive local economies, but they are indispensable connective tissue that keeps healthy communities together.
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