Museum Center and Public Library receive huge grant to aid digital learning

Cincinnati Museum Center and the Public Library of Cincinnati-Hamilton County have been awarded a substantial grant to develop a sustainable digital learning model. The $496,707 grant from the Institute for Museum and Library Services will help bridge the digital divide for local communities.

Whitney Owens

“This is incredible recognition of our organizations’ important work, and critical support that will help us better serve our community,” says Whitney Owens, the project’s director and chief learning officer at Cincinnati Museum Center. “The nationwide grant selection process was incredibly competitive, and the combined strength and skills of our Cincinnati Museum Center-Public Library partnership helped us bring this opportunity home to Cincinnati.”

With a focus on five neighborhoods where digital access is most challenging – the West End, Price Hill, Westwood, St. Bernard and Avondale – CMC and the Library are working to address inequities in education, access and delivery that have become even more glaring during COVID-19. The Library will strengthen digital access through tools such as WiFi hotspots and hardware lending programs, and both CMC and the Library will create and share educational content designed with community input. Free digital and outreach programming will be available to schools, senior centers, social service organizations and other groups serving low-income populations in the neighborhoods of focus.

Main Library, downtown

“This project can answer a direct need in this moment, but it will remain relevant in a future where digital learning becomes even more critical,” adds Owens. “Our IMLS-supported work will more strongly connect our community to the resources of Cincinnati Museum Center and the Library, be a powerful tool for students and seniors and become a positive step forward toward more equitable education in our region.”

The IMLS grant will help CMC and the Library develop programs that can be scaled to different group sizes and learning levels. The project seeks to increase digital access and proficiency, reach pre-K through 5th grade students learning fully or partially from home, and also engage seniors to lessen social isolation. In the process, the team seeks to strengthen connections among CMC, the Library system, schools and community organizations, working in concert to bridge digital divides that can hold learners back.

Paula Brehm-Heeger

“One of the main concerns of the Library is that all community members have equity in their access to digital resources and materials, including computers or laptops, WiFi access, and the trained staff to help show them how to use the technology,” said Library Director Paula Brehm-Heeger. “Working with Cincinnati Museum Center and neighborhood partners, we will advance digital inclusion in the community.”

The IMLS grant was particularly competitive: the CMC and Library submission was one of 1,701 applications from museums and libraries throughout the U.S. With only 68 projects selected for funding, CMC and the Library are among just 4% of applicants to earn an award.

“As pillars of our communities, libraries and museums bring people together by providing important programs, services and collections. These institutions are trusted spaces where people can learn, explore and grow,” said IMLS Director Crosby Kemper. “IMLS is proud to support their initiatives through our grants as they educate and enhance their communities.”

CMC and the Library are aided by Northern Kentucky University’s Center for Integrative Natural Science and Mathematics, which will serve as project evaluator and provide critical support throughout the project.

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