July 2, 2010

Institute of Museum and Library Services funding will provide scholarships for Inland Empire librarians to pursue master’s degrees.

RIVERSIDE, Calif. – The University of California, Riverside Library has been awarded a $974,259 grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) to recruit 25 non-degreed employees from Inland Empire libraries who want to pursue a Master of Library and Information Science degree.

The Laura Bush 21st Century Librarian Program grant is designed to increase the number of under-represented minorities in the pool of librarians and improve library services in the region, said UCR Librarian Ruth Jackson. UCR will match the grant with $241,587 in library staff time to administer the three-year project.

The UCR grant is one of 38 totaling more than $22.6 million awarded to libraries, library schools, and professional organizations out of a national pool of 110 applicants.

“We’re very excited about this opportunity,” Jackson said. “Diversity of library staff makes a tremendous difference in availability of language skills and understanding the culture and information needs of the population served. It makes a difference to academic and public libraries in the kinds of materials you have in their libraries and the design of programmatic services. It is absolutely critical to have a diverse staff in both academic and public libraries nationally, and in the Inland Empire, which has one of the most diverse and fastest-growing populations in terms of diversity in the nation.”

UCR Library will be the lead institution partnering with eight public and academic libraries in the region to recruit, support and mentor current and future librarians. Those libraries are: San Bernardino County Library system, San Bernardino County Law Library, San Bernardino Public Library, Rancho Cucamonga Public Library, Riverside County Law Library, San Bernardino Valley Community College, Riverside Community College (Moreno Valley) and the University of Redlands Armacost Library. Also collaborating in the grant will be the Graduate Schools of Library and Information Studies at UCLA and San Jose State University.

Funding for the program, titled Inland Empire LEADS (Librarians Educated to Advance Diversity and Service), will provide scholarships up to $24,900, as well as internships, mentoring, and opportunities for program participants to attend professional conferences while working toward their MLIS degrees.

Tuition costs and the time needed to complete a degree – typically two years – make it difficult for working librarians to pursue the advanced degree, said Jackson and Patricia Smith-Hunt, head of Preservation Services for UCR Library and project director for Inland Empire LEADS. The Inland Empire LEADS project will enable working librarians to attend school full or part time, they said. Volunteers from the Librarians Association of the University of California, Riverside (LAUC-R) will serve as mentors.

Smith-Hunt said the grant-writing team – which she led, assisted by library analyst Julie Mason and Jackson – surveyed 25 academic, public and specialty libraries in the Inland Empire to determine interest in and need for the project.

“Administrators at all of the institutions that responded were excited about this possibility,” she said. “They estimated there will be 20 librarians retiring in the next five years. We can help educate the next generation of librarians, and the libraries where they work will benefit from new skills they will be acquiring and implementing before they graduate.”

The project will begin recruiting staff members who are already pursuing a master’s degree or who have been admitted to a program. Upper level undergraduates at UCR who have expressed an interest in pursuing a career as a librarian will be encouraged to apply as well.

Obtaining a Master of Library and Information Science degree is important both to understand the philosophical background of libraries and to respond to rapidly changing technology, services and resources, Jackson said.

“Libraries are complex organizations,” she said. “Librarians need to understand technology, design of services, strategic planning, advocacy, fund-raising, preservation, budgeting and influencing federal information policy, such as copyright law and open access to research paid for with federal dollars. At the same time, we have the challenge of redesigning libraries for easy, effective, and economical access to information in the digital age. Services in such areas as children and young adults, access to health information, economic and job data, and cultural programming will continue to be increasingly important in the public library arena as we make the transition. It’s important to continue to develop skills in critical thinking and reading among children and young adults in the digital age. That’s what libraries do.”

Library services in the Inland Empire have suffered because of language and cultural disparities between library staffs and the communities they serve, Smith-Hunt said.

“Library administrators whom we surveyed said their professional library staffs are racially and culturally disproportionate to the diverse communities they serve,” she said. “They anticipate labor shortages of professionally trained librarians over the next five years, and they need staff with language, cultural and personal experiences that more closely reflect the communities they serve.”

Competition on the national level to recruit and retain librarians from under-represented minority groups is strong, Jackson and Smith-Hunt said. The Inland Empire project will help increase the number of qualified librarians nationally and locally, they said.

The Institute of Museum and Library Services is the primary source of federal support for the nation’s 123,000 libraries and 17,500 museums. The institute’s mission is to create strong libraries and museums that connect people to information and ideas.

For application information contact Patricia Smith-Hunt, project director, at or (951) 827-7702.