July 31, 2023

National Museum Survey logo

By Crosby Kemper, IMLS Director

This summer, the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) is piloting a National Museum Survey (NMS) that, if successful, will lead to an annual collection aimed at gathering and sharing the great work happening in the museum world. There are currently no federal freely available statistics about museums in the United States — which is a need that policymakers have acknowledged to IMLS for some time. IMLS is now answering that call.

Showcasing the Impact
The NMS pilot is designed to capture the scope and reach of the incredible work of nation’s museums and related institutions. If successful, the pilot will lead to a full survey, rolled out nationwide in 2025, that will help shape the work of policymakers and museum professionals through freely providing a reliable national data source. The pandemic revealed not only the cultural significance of our museums, but the vast economic impact, the influence on social well being, and the need for more understanding of the educational and social mobility support of the museum world for its serendipitous engagement with all our divides and divisions.

Approximately 7,050 museums of varying disciplines, sizes, and geographies are being invited to participate in the NMS pilot. These institutions include zoos, aquariums, botanical gardens, and arboretums; nature and science centers, planetariums; history museums and historic sites; art museums; children’s museums; natural history museums; and specialized museums. The survey will capture a variety of information about each institution’s characteristics and facilities; financial data; human resources information; admissions, visitors, and outreach; digital presence; and diversity, equity, and inclusion approach.

Enabling Data-Driven Investments
IMLS has fielded a national survey of libraries for many years, but this is the first time the organization will be capturing the work of museums and related institutions. IMLS’s investment in this project will create a better understanding of the important role that museums play in our nation.

The data from the full survey will be invaluable to a range of audiences — including museum practitioners, researchers, journalists, the public, local practitioners, and legislators — who can use it for research, planning, evaluation, and policymaking.

Shaping the Future of Museums
If the project progresses to a full annual collection, IMLS plans to build dynamic dashboards and other products that will illustrate the resulting data and allow anyone interested to explore the information on their own. Users will be able to compare museums by metrics like size, subject or discipline, and geography.

This new survey is just one of the ways IMLS continues to support the needs of cultural institutions nationwide.

Learn more about this effort by visiting the IMLS website and searching "National Museum Survey," visiting https://www.imls.gov/research-evaluation/data-collection/national-museum-survey, and/or subscribing to the IMLS newsletter for updates.

Crosby Kemper

About the Author
Crosby Kemper is the sixth director of the Institute of Museum and Library Services. He was commissioned by the White House on January 24, 2020, following his confirmation by the United States Senate.