The Information Technology Rural Librarian Master's Scholarship Program, Phase II (ITRL2) in the School of Information Sciences at the University of Tennessee meets an urgent need for rural librarians in the Southern and Central Appalachian region to develop information technology competencies and training in a master's program (accredited by the American Library Association) that combines work experience/practice with graduate instruction/curriculum support. This region is experiencing information poverty and unemployment, economic challenges, low levels of information literacy and educational attainment, a lack of access/use of IT, and unique environmental challenges. Library professionals who are embedded in their communities are in a strong position to help address and develop solutions to these needs.
The goal of ITRL2 is to provide the thirteen selected students, who have paraprofessional jobs in the SCA region’s rural libraries, with education to complete their master’s degree with a focus on IT and rural librarianship in the SIS program via distance education. Students are receiving a structured, individually-tailored curriculum with formal/informal professional mentoring by educators and practitioners. IT competencies in developing rural library work applications/practices especially tailored towards the needs of the SCA communities have been incorporated into the curriculum. The duration of ITRL2 is from June 2013 to August 2015.
The overall project design covers five phases that include:
- Recruitment of ITRL2 students from the rural libraires in the Southern and Central Appalachian Region
- Needs assessment of library services and information challenges faced by rural regional libraries
- Implementation of educational/training activities
- Mentoring/Evaluation/Assessment of program outcomes, dissemination of program results/expereinces
Two major components in the ITRL2 curriculum include IT and rural librarianship courses.
IT deliverables applied towards rural libraries in the SIS courses include:
- Technology planning, assessment, and analysis
- Database and web design, development, and usability
- Building digital library, web portals, and Library 2.0 tools
- Establishing hardware and software configurations for networking systems
Management outcomes in rural library courses will include:
- Service evaluation/assessment in rural libraries
- Planning/management of rural library program for youth and adults
- Reader's advisory and other information services
- Grant writing and partnership development
UT-SIS faculty member Dr. Bharat Mehra is administering the project with Dr. Vandana Singh. The four partnering institutions from East Tennessee are: Clinch River Regional Library: Susan Byrne Simmons (Clinton, Tennessee), Ocoee River Regional Library: Beth Allen Mercer (Athens, Tennessee), Sevier County Public Library System: Rhonda Tippitt (Sevierville, Tennessee), and the Watauga Regional Library: Nancy Renfro (Johnson City, Tennessee). Project partners were selected to participate in ITRL2 based on their leadership, role, knowledge, networks, experience, and interests to participate in promoting IT-based development and change in the SCA libraries and their communities. Though all project partners are located in the East Tennessee region, representatives from other regional and county library systems in the SCA region were also contacted to elicit their participation in the various activities identified in the grant proposal.
Project partners assisted in recruitment of ITRL2 students by participating in the ITRL2 Recruitment Board; participating/recruiting for the online/face-to-face ITRL2 Needs Assessment Symposium; participating/recruiting for the ITRL2 Practitioner Mentoring Board; and participating/recruiting for the Annual ITRL2 Summits.
The model of a master’s degree in information science to prepare future rural library professionals (who are already working paraprofessionals) with IT competencies and skill-sets that integrate coursework geared towards producing tangible outcomes and products relevant for rural communities in the SCA region is of interest and applicability to master’s programs nationwide.
Contact: Bharat Mehra, Ph.D., Associate Professor, School of Information Sciences, University of Tennessee. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org, Phone: 865-974-5917.