From the Executive Summary: "Complete, reliable data about U.S. museums are essential for the development of good policies. These policies will inform federal support for museums, help institute good museum planning and practice, and inform the public about the place and value of museums in their lives and in their communities. With the reauthorization of the Museum and Library Services Act in September 2003, the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) was charged with increased analysis of museum and library trends and needs. As one step in developing a plan to implement this new charge, IMLS requires a regular report on the status of data collection about the nation’s museums. The most recent IMLS report, “Facts About Museums,� was completed in 1998. In late summer of 2004, IMLS asked McManis & Monsalve Associates to undertake a study on the status of data collection about museums in works published from 1999 to 2004 and planned through 2006. The study would update the 1998 report and was to include a current assessment of the data regularly and systematically collected about museums in the United States; an analysis of the data’s usefulness; and recommendations for options to improve the collection and sharing of data about museums.

Unlike the research process for the 1998 report, preparation of this report relied extensively on the Internet for identifying sources of information. Furthermore, McManis Associates concluded early on that in addition to systematically collected quantitative data, the report could benefit from the inclusion of qualitative data regarding museums (case studies, strategic plans, benchmarking, and best practices research). McManis Associates reviewed data from 490 sources, selecting 246 citations for inclusion in this report. A significant number of additional sources reviewed did not meet the criteria for this study. The criteria for inclusion were: regularly and systematically collected aggregate data about U.S. museums, focused on a broad range of museums, collected between 1999 or planned through 2006, collected by museum membership associations at all levels, or by foundations, state humanities and arts councils, federal or state units of government, universities, for-profit organizations, and related groups or coalitions. The impact of web-based technologies has been felt in two ways in this report and is of such significance that special note should be made. The maturation of the Internet as a mechanism for gathering, storing, and sharing information contributed significantly to the speed with which the research team was able to conduct its searches, as well as to the number of sources the research team was able to reach and review. It also has
enormous potential for enabling the museum community to collaborate in gathering and
sharing data. There are problems to be overcome, however. Web surveys are often done quickly, often not vetted, and not presented in traditional forums. And while websites are readily accessible, the sites and their materials frequently disappear without warning, a problem not found with surveys in hard copy."