Grant creates program to produce more bilingual librarians for Texas

Monday, September 27, 2004

The communities along the 1,300-mile Texas-New Mexico-Mexico border are experiencing critical shortages of librarians.

Many border public and academic libraries report that one to six professional positions go unfilled -- in some cases, for years, according to Ana Cleveland, University of North Texas professor of library and information sciences.

Often these communities go through lengthy and expensive processes to bring in trained librarians from other parts of the country, but many of the hires leave within a year or two because they fail to adjust to the local community, Cleveland adds.

UNT's School of Library and Information Sciences recently received a $790,000 two-year federal grant from the Institute of Library and Museum Services to help remedy the problem.

In a unique partnership with border public and academic libraries, UNT created the Rio Grand Initiative, which takes 20 bilingual graduates from border colleges and personnel from border libraries and places them in 20 unfilled professional-in-training library positions at partner academic and public libraries. While filling empty positions, participants in the two-year program also earn a master's degree online in library science. 

The students will go through the master's program as a group taking courses together during the first year. Then in the second year, participants can diversify and take courses that reflect their areas of specialization and the needs of their communities. 

During the term of their two-year placements, they will be mentored by local professional librarians as well as UNT faculty who will monitor their work and encourage their educational progress.

"Because these 20 new librarians currently live in the border communities where the professional positions are unfilled, we hope they will continue to live and work in these communities after graduation from the master's program," Cleveland says.

Cleveland points out that Texas is the second largest state and the fourth most diverse state in the nation, which means it has the greatest need to accommodate its growing minority populations.  Texas is second in the size of its Hispanic population with approximately 6.7 million people -- 32 percent of the population.

By 2040, it is projected that 59.1 percent of Texans will be Hispanic. New Mexico is already 42 percent Hispanic.

"There is no greater task for the people of Texas and New Mexico than increasing the socio-economic status of their non-Anglo populations," Cleveland says. "Since this can be primarily achieved through increasing the participation of these populations in our higher education system, we believe libraries are the start of that process."

The IMLS grant pays for the participating students' tuition and fees and contributes $10,000 per year towards their salaries at the partner libraries. In conjunction, the partner libraries are committed to contributing a minimum of $10,000 per year toward the students' salaries.

Forty-five public and academic libraries serve the communities along the U.S.-Mexico Border between Port Isabel, Texas, on the Gulf of Mexico and Las Cruces, New Mexico.  They include the major cities of Brownsville, Harlingen, Edinburg, McAllen, Laredo, Del Rio, El Paso, and Las Cruces. The total population of the area is 2.1 million people. 

"If this program is successful, two things will occur," Cleveland says. "The participating libraries gain an experienced librarian with knowledge of the local community and these libraries will have had the services of a professional-in-training for two years. 

"We hope that's enough for libraries along the border to be willing to contribute both the full salary for future professionals-in-training and also contribute toward tuition and other support for the students," she adds.

UNT News Service Phone Number: (940) 565-2108