RECEIPT DEADLINE: September 30, 2013
Date posted: June 24, 2013

Questions? Contact the American Library Association (ALA) staff at 1-800-545-2433, ext. 5045, or

I. Program Description

The American Library Association Public Programs Office, the Oklahoma State University Library, and the Mount Holyoke College Library announce and invite applications from public, academic, and special libraries for Dust, Drought, and Dreams Gone Dry: A Traveling Exhibition and Public Programs for Libraries about the Dust Bowl.   

This grant program is made possible in part by the National Endowment for the Humanities: Exploring the Human Endeavor (NEH). Twenty-five sites will be selected to present the exhibition and associated public programs in their communities for a period of six weeks. All sites selected for the project will receive a grant of $1,200 from ALA, with funding provided by NEH for expenses related to public programs.

To be eligible for this grant program, an institution must have a suitable space in which to display the 300-square-foot traveling exhibition.

Participants selected for Dust, Drought, and Dreams Gone Dry will display a traveling exhibition and present at least three programs for the public about the history and legacy of the Dust Bowl, the worst man-made ecological disaster in American history. The traveling exhibition and public programs will complement and also expand on the content of Ken Burns’ film, The Dust Bowl, which premiered on PBS in November 2012. Participant institutions will receive a DVD of the Burns film to use in local programming.

Two other distinguished historical archives owned by sponsor institutions will also be available as resources for local programming: 1) the Oklahoma State University Library’s “Women in the Dust Bowl” online oral history archives of interviews with people who lived through the Dust Bowl; and 2) the Mount Holyoke College Library’s collection of the papers of Caroline Henderson, who farmed throughout the Dust Bowl period and wrote many letters, essays, and articles about her experiences. Many of Henderson’s observations are gathered in the book, Letters from the Dust Bowl, edited by Alvin O. Turner.

The traveling exhibition and related public programs will help library audiences understand one of America's most severe ecological disasters in a new way. Letters, oral histories, images, maps, and individual voices will tell the story of the human and environmental impact of extreme weather, agricultural disaster, and economic devastation on the Great Plains in the 1930s. The exhibit and programs feature several overlapping humanities themes: the nature of the connection and the interaction between humans and nature; the many ways human beings respond to adversity; how people tried in this historical period to understand their social, economic, and ecological environment, and the realizations they came to (shown especially in the Henderson papers and the oral histories); and the forms of expression they used to describe the experience of living in the Plains and through the Dust Bowl.

The Exhibition

The traveling exhibition will feature twenty colorful, illustrated panels about the Plains area before, during, and after the Dust Bowl occurred. The exhibit will use images and quotations from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, memories of the Dust Bowl from oral histories and writing, and recent scholarly analysis. QR codes will lead to selections from the OSU oral histories, the writings of Caroline Henderson, and other primary sources.

The exhibition panels begin with the earliest human activity and the diverse ecology of the Plains, early artistic expressions from the indigenous peoples of the area, and weather patterns in the area to which the people were attuned in their daily lives. For hundreds of years, those weather patterns had included high winds and long droughts. Then settlers from the east came to the Plains to farm, railroad tracks were laid, and a land rush began. To sell the land and convince people to settle there, landowners promised rich soil and abundant rainfall. Thousands of new settlers cleared millions of acres of native grasslands. Luckily, the region was in a cycle of high precipitation throughout the 1920s, and crops flourished.

But in 1931, an epic drought that would become one of the most severe droughts in five hundred years took hold of the Plains. Adding to the catastrophic effects of the drought was the fact that removal of the Plains grasses had left an endless supply of sand, silt, and dust to blow across and out of the region. There were spectacular dust storms throughout the 1930s, some of them reaching cities in the Midwest and on the East Coast.

The exhibit examines the personal tragedies the Dust Bowl created for people living in the region—families became sick with “dust pneumonia”; livestock died; some farmers turned to alcohol or committed suicide. It also shows how people endured through the crisis. They created self-help groups, tried community farming, and reached out to the sick and despairing among them. Only a quarter of the population left the area, migrating west to California or to urban areas that promised jobs. The rest stayed and tried to adapt and learn from the situation.

Little by little, as the exhibition shows, a recovery took place, based on farmers’ understanding of what had caused the Dust Bowl. They developed tools and strategies to stop wind erosion, examined government policies, and realized how intensive industrial farming and ignorance of the weather patterns of the area had upset the balance between nature and the land. The Soil Erosion Service, later the Soil Conservation Service, helped get farmers back on their feet and educated them about saving their farms.

What is critical today is that knowledge of the Dust Bowl and its causes is eroding in the region where it occurred. Successively younger generations demonstrate decreasing knowledge of Dust Bowl events and their implications. The severe drought of the summer of 2012, however, raised the question of the possibility of another Dust Bowl. Because the responses to the Dust Bowl have in the past focused on changes in agricultural practices more than on the climate of the region, dust has been removed from the collective memory of the area. The question of whether it could happen again is still to be answered.

Public Programs

Libraries selected for the project are responsible for presenting at least three public programs. Two programs described below are required, and sites may select at least one other program from the list of other possible programs. Beyond that, sites are free to present as many programs as they wish. All programs are intended to 1) encourage scholar-led discussion about the causes and effects of the Dust Bowl and its lessons for Americans; 2) acquaint new audiences with firsthand accounts of the Dust Bowl through the Henderson papers and the Oklahoma State University oral histories; and 3) complement the continuing re-broadcast on public television stations of the NEH-funded Ken Burns documentary, The Dust Bowl.

Required program 1: Screening of Ken Burns’ The Dust Bowl with discussion led by a qualified scholar. All sites will receive a copy of the film with public performance rights.

Required program 2: A program focusing on the life and writing of Caroline Henderson, or a program based upon three to five oral histories from the Oklahoma State University online collection (libraries may present both programs if they wish). A scholar must lead these programs. See Project Description above for links to the Henderson papers and the Oklahoma oral histories.

Other public programs:

  • A community-wide Chautauqua-like event about the Dust Bowl, organized with the oversight of the project scholar, and featuring a scholar presentation, and possibly oral history interviews, viewing of excerpts from the Burns documentary; readings from oral histories, poems, fiction and nonfiction works about the Dust Bowl, music and dance, and other cultural expressions of the 1930s. Libraries are encouraged to create a 1930s atmosphere with music, displays of books and photographs, food, and related programs for children.

  • An “Oral History in a Box” program. Developed by the Oklahoma State University Oral History Research Program, an “oral history box” will contain a digital recorder and memory cards, a small digital camera, and oral history instructional DVDs (an oral history workshop for kindergarten through eighth grade, and one for ninth grade through adults). Instruction in using the oral history materials will be provided for libraries which choose this program.

  • A lecture and discussion led by a scholar about the Dust Bowl, its causes and effects, with particular focus on the natural world of the region of the project site. For example, a site in Louisiana could include discussion of the destruction of marshland and its effects on area; a site in Montana could discuss the effects of logging on local lives; many areas could address recent severe droughts across the United States and their effects on communities and livelihoods.

  • A Century of Change: Then and Now in Photos. Libraries invite community members, media, and historical societies to share photos of the history of the community. Libraries prepare a “photo wall” telling the story of their community during the past one hundred years. A discussion program led by a scholar would address questions such as: What did the town look like in the 1930s? How was it affected by the Depression and/or the Dust Bowl? Are winters and summers colder or warmer than before? How did local people get through difficult periods like the Depression? What was the area’s natural environment like a century ago? What is the condition of rivers, lakes and streams in the area now—has the way people use them changed? Are there more or fewer farms—and why? How do former farmers make a living now? What gives people a sense that this is their “community”?

  • A book discussion program or series of programs, or a “One Book, One Community” program with discussion led by a scholar. The sponsors will provide suggested titles for book discussion. A film discussion program would also be possible.

II. Award Information

Twenty-five institutions will be selected to host Dust, Drought, and Dreams Gone Dry between April 2014 and March 2016.

Benefits for Project Sites

Sites selected for this grant program will receive the following:

  1. A cash grant of $1,200 from ALA, with funding provided by NEH (grant funds may not be used to support indirect costs, i.e., general administrative expenses).
  2. The traveling exhibition for a six-week loan period (shipping costs included).
  3. A DVD of Ken Burns’ film The Dust Bowl, with public performance rights, for use in programming and later addition to the collection.
  4. Exhibition brochure and poster designs for downloading and local printing.
  5. A CD press kit with images for use in publicity and on websites. .
  6. An online site support notebook that will offer resources to assist sites in presenting public programs, including program descriptions and materials, exhibition photos and shipping and installation instructions, and report forms.
  7. Free participation in an orientation webinar for the project in April 2014.
  8. Technical and programming support from the ALA Public Programs Office throughout the project, including participation in an online discussion list for sites.

Requirements for Project Sites

Sites selected for this grant programs must do the following:

  1. Appoint one staff member as the project director (local coordinator) of the project. The project director from each selected site must participate in the orientation webinar in April 2014.
  2. Recruit one or more qualified scholars to help with local planning and public program presentations in connection with the exhibition display. Encourage the project scholar to participate in the orientation webinar in April 2014.
  3. Recruit at least one local partner organization that can help market the program and reach target audiences. Suggested partners include public television stations; public, college, or university libraries; historical societies or history centers; museums; and state humanities councils.
  4. Sponsor an opening event for the public and at least three public programs from the suggested programs list (see program list above in 1. Program Description). The opening event may be combined with a public program. All programs must be free to the public.
  5. Use designated sponsor and funder credits and/or logos on all locally produced publicity materials.
  6. Promote the programs to the widest possible public audience. Private institutions should describe in their applications how they plan to attract public audiences to the exhibition and programs.
  7. Follow exhibition security and space guidelines (three hundred square feet in one location at the site; monitoring the exhibition on a regular schedule during open hours).
  8. Provide all reports to the ALA by the deadline requested, including an exhibition condition/damage report and a final project report. NEH requires a final report from each project site that assesses how well the finished project met its goals to educate and engage the public. Information on the project’s reach (size of audiences viewing the exhibit and attending programs) and impact must be part of this final report. NEH particularly wants to know how fully the project met its stated learning goals and how audiences were more deeply engaged in thinking about humanities ideas and questions as a result of the project.

III. Eligibility

Eligible institutions include public, academic (college, university, community college), and special libraries. Individuals are not eligible to apply. Please contact the sponsors if you have questions about eligibility.

Federal entities are ineligible to apply. Applications from organizations whose projects are so closely intertwined with a federal entity that the project takes on characteristics of the federal entity’s own authorized activities may also be deemed ineligible. This does not preclude applicants from using grant funds from, or sites and materials controlled by, other federal entities in their projects.

Late, incomplete, or ineligible applications will not be reviewed.

IV. Application and Submission Information

ALA will accept applications for Dust, Drought, and Dreams Gone Dry between June 24 and September 30, 2013.

Getting Started

To begin the application process, go to

To apply for Dust, Drought, and Dreams Gone Dry, you must complete the following nine steps:

  • REGISTER (if you have not registered when applying for a different project)
  • LOG IN (if you have already registered when applying for a different project)

1. Register

Before you access the application, you must register to create an application account.


2. Log In

If you have already registered when applying for another ALA Public Programs Office grant project, you may log in using your e-mail address and password.

3. Complete Project Director Information

Note: The Project Director is the person who will be responsible for coordinating the programs and traveling exhibition at the site. He or she will be the primary point of contact for the project at the applicant institution.

To complete step 3, provide all the information that is requested on the Project Director Information screen. You must then save the information.

One piece of information that you must supply is the applicant institution’s DUNS number. All institutions receiving an award are required to provide a DUNS number, issued by Dun & Bradstreet. Project directors should contact their institution’s grants administrator or chief financial officer to obtain their institution’s DUNS number. Federal grant or subgrant applicants can obtain a DUNS number free of charge by calling 1-866-705-5711. (Learn more about the requirement.)

After clicking the “SAVE” button, you will be able to return to the application at any time and log in, using your e-mail address and password. This will allow you to edit, save, and return to your application as needed prior to the September 30, 2013, submission deadline.

4. Write the Proposal Narrative

Before you compose the narrative part of this proposal, we strongly recommend that you read these guidelines carefully. If you do not, your proposal is unlikely to be competitive.


Please write a brief narrative describing your plans for presenting Dust, Drought, and Dreams Gone Dry at your library. The proposal narrative consists of seven sections (described immediately below). Please note that each section of the narrative may not exceed three hundred words.

Be sure to address the following points in your narrative:

1. Describe why your institution would like to participate in this project, including community interests and demographics, area collections pertinent to the project, and why the cultural life of your community would benefit from examining Dust Bowl themes and events. Please state three primary learning goals for your community for this project.

2. Libraries are required to collaborate with at least one of the following in planning their programs: a local public television station; a public, college, or university library; a historical society or history center; a museum; or a state humanities council. Please describe your library’s partner or partners and their roles in the project. Attach a letter of commitment from each partner in Section 6.B.

3. Provide the name and title of the project scholar(s), and each scholar’s highest degree and primary discipline. Discuss each scholar’s knowledge of Dust Bowl themes and any previous experience he or she may have relevant to leading programs in libraries. Attach a vita or biography (up to two pages only) for each scholar in Section 6.A, and a letter of commitment from each scholar in Section 6.B. (Note: Applications without a confirmed project scholar will not be considered.)

4. Describe your target audiences and how you will reach them. If you are an academic or special library, what is your track record in attracting the general public to programs? How will you reach the public for programs about the Dust Bowl? All applicants please attach samples of previous or current program publicity materials, if available, in Section 6.D.

5. Which of the Dust Bowl public programs described in the guidelines would work well at your location? Why? Do you have any other ideas for programs not mentioned in the guidelines? What do you want audiences to learn from your programs? Please attach letters from other project supporters in Section 6.C, if you wish. (Note: If your institution is chosen for this project, these preliminary plans may be altered as needed.)

6. Describe the methods that will be used to evaluate how well your programs met their learning goals and objectives. NEH particularly wants to know how fully the project met its stated learning goals and how audiences were more deeply engaged in thinking about humanities ideas and questions as a result of the project.

7. Summarize your institution’s commitment to and history of adult programming, including previous experience with traveling exhibitions and/or other adult public programming. Please provide specific examples of program successes, including attendance figures and target audiences reached.

5. Complete the Exhibition Scheduling Period Item

Fill in the information requested in the drop-down menus in this section of the application form. Please indicate three preferred display periods and three unwanted display periods for the traveling exhibition. You may indicate “No Preference” for any of the display periods.

6. Upload Supporting Materials

6.A—Upload CVs/Biographies

Upload the vita or biography of the project director and the local project scholar(s), as described in the instructions in the “Project Director Information” section, and in Question No. 3 of the proposal narrative.

6.B—Upload Letters of Commitment

Upload only letter(s) of commitment from the major project partner(s) and local project scholar(s) here, as described in the instructions for Nos. 2 and 3 of the proposal narrative.

6.C—Upload Letters of Support

Upload other letters of support for the project from local organizations and institutions (not the project partner or the scholar) here.

6.D—Upload Sample Publicity Materials (optional)

Upload samples of previous or current program publicity materials related to efforts described in No. 4 of the proposal narrative.

7. Certify Authorization to Submit Application

An application to host Dust, Drought, and Dreams Gone Dry is an application for an award from the ALA, using funding provided by the NEH, an agency of the federal government. ALA is required by law to ask applicants to identify for each application a certifying official, who is authorized to submit applications for funding on behalf of the organization.

To complete this section, you must enter all of the information that is requested.

8. Review and Edit Your Application

The Review and Edit page summarizes all the information that you have entered, including your Project Director Information and your Proposal Narrative. From this page you can

  • review and edit each section;
  • save the entire application and log out of the system; or
  • move ahead to certify and submit your application.

9. Submit Your Application

Once you have completed all parts of your application, you may submit it at any time by selecting the Submit Application” button. All applications must be submitted by 11:59 p.m. Central Time on September 30, 2013. Applications submitted after that time will be considered ineligible.

Note that once you have submitted your application, you can no longer alter it. The application will then be submitted for review.

You will receive via e-mail a confirmation of the submission of your application. At the confirmation page you will be able to print out a copy of your application, which you should keep.

V. Application Review

Applications will be evaluated according to the following criteria:

  • Clarity and completeness of the application. Has the applicant supplied all required information, including the seven sections of the proposal narrative and the preferred display dates for the exhibition? Are plans and ideas for programs described clearly?
  • Qualifications of the local project scholar(s). The local project scholar should have a Ph.D. or another advanced degree in U.S. History, American Studies, Environmental Studies, Cultural Geography, or another relevant humanities subject. His or her experience should include teaching this subject at a college or university, and ideally, presenting programs for out-of-school adults.
  • The overall vision for the exhibition and programs. How does this project relate to the library’s community and its previous public programs? How will it contribute to the community’s cultural life?
  • Quality of publicity and audience recruitment plan, including the explanation of the role of program partners.
  • Library administrative support for the project.

Other factors that may influence the final selection of libraries include the following:

  • Location of the sites. The selection committee would like programs to take place in all regions of the country.
  • Size and demographics of the community. The selection committee seeks a mix of communities of different sizes and varied demographics.

Applicants are encouraged to address questions about the selection guidelines, process, and requirements to the Public Programs Office, American Library Association, at 1-800-545-2433, ext. 5045, or

Review and Selection Process

Each application will be assessed by a panel of librarians in collaboration with the staff of ALA and NEH.

Evaluators may take geographical and demographic distribution into consideration when selecting host libraries. The Chairman of NEH will make the final decisions.

VI. Award Administration Information

  • Application Deadline: September 30, 2013
  • Grant Notification: April 2014
  • Orientation Webinar: April 2014
  • Programming Period: June 2014 through January 2016

Award Notification

Applicants will be notified of the decision by e-mail by April 15, 2014.

Reporting Requirements

Award recipients will be required to submit an online final performance report to ALA thirty days after the exhibition and programs end at their site.

VII. Points of Contact

If you have questions about the program, contact:

Public Programs Office
American Library Association
1-800-545-2433, ext. 5045