UW-Whitewater: University-led consortium receives nearly $1 million grant from Institute of Museum and Library Services

Contact: Eileen Schroeder

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WHITEWATER ­ Did it surprise you to learn that the street demonstrations in Iran were organized through Twitter?

The use of “social media” to communicate and to disseminate information is a sign of modern times and poses new challenges to schools and, particularly, school librarians charged with educating students to participate as citizens in a changing world.

So it’s good news for Wisconsin schools that a consortium led by University of Wisconsin-Whitewater library science professors has been awarded a federal grant totaling almost $1 million to help school librarians become licensed and conversant with changing technology.

The United States Institute of Museum and Library Services Laura Bush 21st Century Librarian Program will award $989,495 to the University of Wisconsin System School Library Education Consortium to train 50 new school library specialists for Wisconsin’s rural and high-need urban public schools. This was the only grant awarded in Wisconsin.

The consortium, which has its administrative offices at UW-Whitewater, includes library science programs at University of Wisconsin campuses in Whitewater, Madison, Eau Claire, Superior and Oshkosh.

The grant will continue and expand a program that started about 12 years ago to help teachers from rural communities learn the latest technologies and qualify for licenses as librarians.

Staff members of those schools often find it difficult to spend blocks of time on university campuses so the consortium provides education opportunities online, on weekends and in the summer throughout the state, said Anne Zarinnia, who coordinates the five-campus program with fellow faculty member Eileen Schroeder.

“Each campus takes a couple of courses and we all agree on a common curriculum,” Zarinnia said. “What we want to do is to help the school librarians be information specialists in a world where the whole field of information is changing,” she said. “The librarian then helps support the teacher in the classroom.”

Participants in the consortium studies are teachers who want to be certified as library specialists.

“Schools in many rural districts find it hard to recruit school librarians and so they have an interest in growing their own,” Schroeder said.

Dean Jeffrey Barnett, of UW-Whitewater’s College of Education, said the federal grant is good news for Wisconsin’s rural communities.

“We’re absolutely delighted to receive this,” he said. “It addresses a real need for rural Wisconsin, which has suffered from a shortage of school librarians for years.”

But what has this to do with Twitter?

Just this: The development of blogs, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and other “social media” may and, indeed, must lead to a change in the way our nation looks at education, Zarinnia and Schroeder said.

“Education is moving beyond having a transmission model, in which a teacher imparts knowledge and a student receives it, and toward a model in which teachers and librarians become learners with those learners they are trying to teach,” Schroeder said.

It is pretty much understood that young people, teenagers in particular, adapt rapidly to modern technology and computers; they can teach their teachers about some of the technologies.

What they need, Zarinnia said, is help in developing critical thinking skills and the ability to analyze the information so readily available on the Internet.

“Librarians no longer just gather books and teach the Dewey Decimal System,” Schroeder said. “We’re helping students and teachers in the process of inquiry, in evaluation of information, and we’re doing it together. It’s an exciting time to be in library work. We need to reshape what we’re doing and how we’re serving our students.”

The Institute of Museum and Library Services grant is the result of years of work by Schroeder and Zarinnia, who applied for a similar grant two years ago, were turned down and reworked the application this year.

“Drs. Zarinnia and Schroeder worked tirelessly for more than two years to develop this project that involves multiple institutions,” said Denise Ehlen, director of research and sponsored programs at UW-Whitewater. “Their talent, leadership and energy are truly awe-inspiring. They are exemplars of the teacher-scholar model. I cannot emphasize enough the potential impact of this project on our students, schools and the state.”

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.