By Jenny Smulson, Vice President for Government Relations, AJCU


Federal student financial aid has long been at the center of AJCU’s advocacy agenda. Our work to help increase federal support for the Pell Grant, Federal Work Study, and Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant (SEOG) programs is done with the goal of ensuring that any student, regardless of income, can have access to a college education, Jesuit or otherwise. We champion other issues within the higher education space too, like protecting the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, reauthorizing the Higher Education Act, and extending visas to international students.

Sometimes we work independently but, more often, we work in coalition with other organizations and agencies to advance policies that will benefit students and all institutions across the nation. One such agency, relevant to this particular issue of Connections, is the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS). This agency provides grants to organizations (e.g., nonprofits, cities, museums, and libraries) with the goals of promoting lifelong learning; building the capacity of museums and libraries to extend their reach; and increasing public access to museums and libraries. IMLS was founded (in its present form) in 1996, with the passage of the Museum and Library Services Act of 1996. This important legislation combined the functions of an independent agency (the Institute of Museum Services) and a department under the umbrella of the U.S. Department of Education. This move enabled the IMLS to better foster synergy and harness the power of libraries and museums to educate, inform, and extend their reach into local communities.

In years past, several AJCU institutions have received support from the IMLS, including Loyola Marymount University’s William H. Hannon Library, which received a grant in 2016 (in partnership with San Jose State University) to support novice, academic, and research librarians. That same year, Loyola University Chicago received a National Leadership Grant for Museums, in partnership with Northwestern University, to support collaboration between the Chicago Children’s Museum and the Evanston Public Library. This grant helped the institutions to conduct research that would “incorporate objects and oral narratives into inquiry-based STEM programs for families in libraries and museums,” with the goal of advancing and understanding STEM learning.

In 2017, Marquette University received a Community Catalyst Grant, intended to “draw on the unique relationships, knowledge, networks, and spaces of museums and libraries to encourage meaningful collaborations with local non-profit and community development organizations, community associations, and individual community members.” Marquette’s grant supported a public art project to explore the importance of water to individuals and the greater community in the city of Milwaukee. Artist Mary Miss initiated dialogue among artists, scientists and local community members through her “Watermarks” project, which utilized “land art,” or the Milwaukee landscape, as its canvas.

Over the years, several other AJCU institutions have received grants from IMLS, either as leads or partners, including Georgetown University, Loyola University New Orleans, Santa Clara University and the University of Detroit Mercy. In 2017, Saint Louis University received a National Leadership Grant for Libraries, as a partner with the Missouri Botanical Garden to advance the work of the systemic botany community. And in 2020, Boston College received a Community Catalyst Grant to educate and train library workers on ways to support community members who have been or are at risk of being targets of cyber-related sexual abuse. This program, which is also aimed at prevention, represents a critical public service and public engagement on an issue of growing concern and importance.

While not exhaustive, these grants provide a slice of the kind of innovative and important academic and community projects that our AJCU institutions are pursuing through IMLS. Each of these awarded grants have helped advance the academic field by lending institutional expertise to respond to academic or community needs, as well as contributing to the good work already being done by museums and libraries to expand access to a broader number of people.

AJCU will continue to advocate for IMLS funding, in partnership with the Committee for Education Funding (CEF). AJCU believes in the power of museums and libraries to ignite learning and imagination, and to serve as community centers. They contribute to the learning landscape from pre-school all the way up through adult education. Our libraries and museums are national treasures and sources of great pride to our institutions and their local communities. To search the IMLS database or to learn more about the Institute for Museum and Library Services, please visit