The Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) has announced that it has entered into a contract with the White Oak Institute and the American Association of Museums (AAM) to develop standard data definitions in collaboration with the museum field.  This work is part of the agency’s museum data collection project, Museums Count.

“We are delighted to announce that we will be working with the White Oak Institute and the American Association of Museums on this effort.  Their knowledge and expertise will help to ensure that we are successful in developing a resource that reflects the complexity and diversity of the museum sector,” said Marsha L. Semmel, Acting Director of IMLS. “Every museum in the country has a stake in the success of this project and we look forward to a collaborative, engaging process.  The lack of comprehensive, reliable data about the size and scope of the museum sector in the United States is a considerable barrier to developing the type of public policy that is needed to fully realize the educational, economic, and cultural value of museums.”

The first task for White Oak and AAM will be to study 10 – 20 existing data sets on U.S. museums and museum participation to develop an overview of currently used data definitions.  A variety of methods will be used to engage a wide range of museum directors, museum organizations, research and evaluation leaders, and other interested parties to provide input on standardizing the definitions and prioritizing the value of different elements.  The final deliverable will be a report detailing a Museum Census Roadmap, including a data glossary, recommendations for database functionality, and a communications strategy.

This fall, IMLS staff will travel to each of the six regional museum association conferences to engage attendees in a dialogue about Museums Count at IMLS-sponsored sessions and at the agency’s exhibit booths.  At the same time, the White Oak Institute and AAM will begin the process of consulting with representatives of the entire museum sector through invitational research convenings and large-scale open discussion channels.

In tandem with this effort, IMLS is working with International Information Associates to create the information architecture for Museums Count and gather basic name, address, and contact information from a variety of sources.  Now and through 2011, IMLS will work extensively with the museum sector to verify this list for a clean, comprehensive database of every museum in the nation before launching an online, searchable database, which will be updated on an annual basis.

Through this project, every museum in the United States will be represented in a national, public database.  Museums, museum associations, advocates, and researchers will be able to:

  • map the exact location of every museum in the United States;
  • find peer museums across the country;
  • determine the true scope and size of the museum sector;
  • locate individual museums or museum organizations within a larger social or economic context;
  • make statements about the capacity of museums in a city, state, or region;
  • establish the known universe of institutions to inform museum research at the local and national level;
  • find potential partners;
  • compare benchmarks and find best practices; and,
  • link to museums with common interests.

To learn more about Museums Count, please contact Carlos Manjarrez at