Looking for museums in your county or state? Want to know how you compare to other museums across the nation? You’ll find them in the Museum Universe Data File recently produced by the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS). It’s a free database of museums in the US that includes names, addresses, contact information, total revenue and expenses, and GIS data.
IMLS held a webinar today to explain the datafile and answer questions. They constructed the list from several sources, including the Internal Revenue Service and Foundation Center, which were then reconciled to remove duplicates. Data will be updated every six months based on continuing research and community feedback. IMLS will be using the datafile to conduct sampling surveys for future research projects, such as collections care, to inform their programs and share results with the field and Congress, however, you are encouraged to use it as well.
The big news is that of the 35,144 total museums in the US, most are related to history (here’s AASLH’s perspective). Historical societies, historic sites, and historic preservation organizations comprise the lion’s share at 16,880 (48%) and when combined with the 2,636 (7.5%) history museums, that makes up more than half. Before you get too excited, several participants noted that the data may be exaggerated because some entries don’t seem to be museums, such as associations, foundations, friends’ groups, and businesses. Indeed, in my region, it includes organizations I wouldn’t consider a museum, such as the Athletic Hall of Fame at Einstein High School (a series of plaques on a wall) and the St. Petersburg Brodsky Museum Foundation (the museum is actually in Russia, not the US). IMLS recognizes that there may be errors, but states this is a process and a “stake in the ground” about the vitality of the cultural sector. In some cases, it’ll take more research to make distinctions. For example, some friends’ groups operate museums, others are merely fundraising arms.
Data files in csv and xls formats with documentation is available online. Patrick Murray-John at Hacking the Humanities has already played with the data to create an experimental interactive map using Omeka and has made the data available in GitHub. IMLS is considering API and other tools, so if you’re interested, see their developer page. IMLS is also developing a searchable interactive map showing locations of museums color-coded by discipline, which they hope to release in coming months. This could be overlaid with other data, such as flood maps, to determine priorities for natural disasters.
As you use the datafile, please be aware that it may contain errors, so check it out and send corrections and comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.