The program at the University of Arizona training librarians to better serve American Indian, Hispanic and other underserved populations has received a nearly $900,000 grant.
The UA's Knowledge River Project is the only one in Arizona funded by the Institute of Museum and Library Services' Laura Bush 21st Century Librarian Program this year.
Two dozen institutions received grant from the federal institute, IMLS, during the newly announced funding cycle, with the UA project slated to fund its work with students and community partners while also expanding its online presence and Web-based course offerings.
"This says a lot about the profession with IMLS continuing to fund Knowledge River," said Sandra Littletree, program manager for Knowledge River. "It's great for the profession to continue the work to bring diverse and more culturally component professionals to the field."
IMLS awarded the UA $844,965 with matching funds set at $861,480 over a three-year period. The IMLS has funded the program, housed in the UA School of Information Resources and Library Science, since its origins 10 years ago.
"There was no guarantee that we would get the funding again, which is why we are really excited," Littletree said. "It is an important project with its prior success. We have been overwhelmed with alumni contacting and congratulating us, happy to see us continuing."
The new grant will enable the UA program to recruit and support nearly three dozen students to work in a range of capacities at archives, public libraries and medical libraries.
As with other Knowledge River cohorts, the students are committed to serving American Indian and Hispanic populations, and do so in communities across the nation.
"People who understand information needs are needed in many parts of government, non government and even corporate work," said Bryan Heidorn, director of the UA school, known as SIRLS.
"The Knowledge River program creates the opportunity, provides training and supports some of those people," he added.
Also with the new funding comes two newly solidified partners: the Arizona Historical Society and the Labriola National American Indian Data Center. Though Knowledge River has worked with both before, the funding enables the project to enter formal agreements, as it has with others.
The UA project also collaborates with the UA Libraries and Center for Creative Photography, Arizona Health Sciences Library, Pima County Public Library and the Arizona State Library.
As partners, those organizations host Knowlege River students throughout the year as graduate assistants getting direct experience in the areas of archives/special collections, public librarianship and also medical and health librarianship.
Littletree said Knowledge River also has initiated an online resource that is now in its infant stage but will eventually serve as an online repository detailing student work in digital information management and other projects and activities.
Additionally, the UA project is expanding its online component and training faculty members in order to improve access to students especially in small and rural communities.
Knowledge River's origins date back to the 1970s.
During that time, faculty members organized programs and services around educating American Indian, Hispanic and Spanish-speaking librarians, particularly those coming from small and rural communities. The effort was supported by funds from the U.S. Department of Education, serving as the precursor for Knowledge River.
Today, the program's alumni work for federal agencies, for archives, in rural and tribal libraries creating programs for family and youth, among other organizations.
Overall, Knowledge River and its students aid in the "cultural informatics" movement, Heidorn said, noting that this involves developing a strong understanding of the community's information needs, and responding to those demands.
Cultural informatics is about designing programs and services specific to individual communities, paying particular attention to demographics and demands.
"Every community or group of people has its own set of information needs that is specific to them. You want to spend your resources focusing on what is needed the most," Heidorn said.
"We see cultural informatics as an extension of what Knowledge River does," he added. "We can develop education, research and service focused on that."