Library Science receives $790,000 for border counties staffing initiative
DENTON (UNT), Texas -- University of North Texas researchers are using a $790,000 federal grant from the Institute of Library and Museum Services for a special project to remedy a critical shortage of librarians in Texas and New Mexico communities along the 1,300-mile border with Mexico.
According to Dr. Ana Cleveland -- UNT professor of library and information sciences -- and Dr. Philip Turner -- vice provost for learning enhancement -- libraries in Texas and New Mexico border communities are currently contending with one to six ongoing vacancies in key library positions.
"While these communities have tried to alleviate the problem by going through lengthy and expensive processes to bring in trained librarians from other parts of the country, those efforts have not met the expectations. Many of the transplanted hires leave within a year because they fail to adjust to the local community," Cleveland explains.
"If these shortages continue to go unresolved, the libraries will be forced to hire unqualified persons and the services they offer will be severely damaged," she says.
The Rio Grand Initiative -- the program Cleveland and a number of her colleagues in UNT's School of Library and Information Sciences developed to remedy the problem -- creates a unique partnership with public and academic libraries in Texas and New Mexico border communities.
"Information is recognized as a powerful tool in today's society and libraries play a very important role in the storage, management and delivery of information," Cleveland says. "In order to deliver quality services to its community, a library must have trained professionals who can best serve their community's particular information needs."
In its effort to help border community libraries meet their service goals, UNT's Rio Grande Initiative provides 20 bilingual students (including graduates from border colleges and personnel from border libraries) and places them in professional-in-training positions at libraries participating in the Rio Grande Initiative. While they fill the empty positions, the participants also earn a UNT master's degree online in library science.
"If the program is successful, the participating libraries gain an experienced librarian with knowledge of the local community and the services of a professional-in-training for two years," Cleveland says.
The UNT professional-in-training students go through their master's program as a group taking courses together during the first year. Then in the second year, they have the latitude to diversify and take courses that reflect their areas of specialized interest and the specific needs of the communities their libraries serve.
All participating students work with assigned mentors at their libraries who encourage their professional progress.
The IMLS grant pays tuition and fees for the participating professional-in-training students. It also contributes $10,000 per student per year towards their salary at a partner library.
In addition, the partner libraries are committed to contributing a minimum of $10,000 per student, per year toward the students' salaries.
Cleveland says, "Because our 20 Rio Grande Initiative students live in the border communities where these important professional positions are vacant, we hope they will continue to live and work in these communities after graduation from the program."
Participating libraries include the Brownsville Public Library; the New Mexico State University Library in Las Cruces; the Speer Memorial Library in Mission, Texas; The Thomas Branigan Library in Las Cruces; the University of Texas-Brownsville Library; South Texas College in McAllen; the University of Texas at El Paso Library and the Weslaco Public Library in Weslaco, Texas.
"There is no greater task for the people of Texas and New Mexico than increasing the socio-economic status of their Hispanic populations," says Cleveland. "Since this can be primarily achieved through increasing the participation of the populations in the states' higher education systems, we believe excellent, well-staffed libraries are the start of the process."
Cleveland points out that Texas is the fourth most diverse state in the nation with a growing Hispanic-Latino population of approximately 6.7 million that accounts for 32 percent of the state's total population.
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