August 28, 2007
To address the staffing needs of the New York metropolitan
area’s poorest school and community libraries, the federal Institute of Museum and Library
Services has awarded the Division
of Library and Information Science in St. John’s College of
Liberal Arts and Sciences a grant of nearly $1 million under its
“Laura Bush 21st Century Librarian Program.” St. John’s was the
seventh-largest beneficiary of the Bush program, which issued 43
grants to institutions across the country this year.
The total award of $988,419 will support a newly-minted St.
John’s master’s program designed to prepare students for
short-term careers within New York’s traditionally underserved
populations. Beginning next year, 40 incoming students will receive
full-tuition scholarships to enter St. John’s Master of Library
Science program. Upon graduating, they will be expected to spend
the next three years of their career serving the metropolitan
area’s lower-income libraries in some capacity.
“The impact of the plan will be the infusion of a committed
cadre of new professionals into certain areas in urgent need of
their contributions,” says
Stacy Creel, Ph.D., Co-Director of the St. John’s program,
which is co-sponsored by the Queens Borough Public Library, the New
York City Department of Education’s Office of School Libraries and
the New York Hall of Science in Flushing, Queens.
Once enrolled at the University, the funded students will follow
a special track exposing them to the literacy and library problems
facing underserved communities. Outside of the classroom, they will
be required to serve in various local volunteer programs such as Homework NYC, the bilingual
family program “Para los Niños,” and “Teen Mothers’ Outreach,”
which encourages young mothers to read to their children. In
addition, students will be given free access to several workshops
geared toward serving the poor. Shortly before graduating, they
will present their experiences to the American Library Association during
its annual conference.
“This program will allow us to expand the face of librarianship
as a profession, exposing young people in all socioeconomic groups
to a more diverse group of librarians and role models,” says
Kathleen Degyansky, ’96MLS, Assistant Director of Programs and
Services for the Queens Public Library. Calling graduates of the
St. John’s Division of Library and Information Science “dedicated,
talented people,” she adds: “As an alumna, I know first hand of the
quality of the education I received.”
Since the grant was formally announced in June, the St. John’s
admission office already has received more than 160 inquiries about
the program, according to
Jeffery Olson, Ph.D., Project Coordinator and Director of the
University’s LIS division. Admission representatives will begin
reviewing applications in October, and 20 students will enter the
program next January. The remaining 20 students will follow in
Olson says the grant application was inspired by the
University’s Vincentian mission to serve the poor, and he cites
recent research indicating that New York schools employing at least
one certified librarian have higher performance rates than those
that don’t, particularly in low-income schools.
“If we can engage needy children and families to effectively use
public and school libraries, then they will have more opportunities
to participate in society,” says Olson, who is also the
University’s Associate Provost for Online Learning and Services.
“Our division is very committed to the mission and its core values
of service and access, and this grant is a manifestation of that
Though a handful of other New York institutions received grant
money through the Laura Bush Program, St. John’s is the only
recipient that will use the money to support the poor, he adds.
Queens Is No. 1
In many ways, the St. John’s M.L.S. program has thrived because of
its proximity to Manhattan, a borough known for being rich with
literary and informational resources.
Lately, however, it is the University’s home borough of Queens
that has been the program’s primary source of bragging rights: Last
week, the Queens Borough
Public Library System was ranked No. 1 in the country by the Public Library
Association, and according to recent news reports, the
borough’s library system experienced an increase of 800,000
circulated items from fiscal year 2006 to 2007, making it the
sixth-busiest in the world.
The Laura Bush grant comes in the midst of great activity within
the Division of Library and Information Science. Recently,
administrators gained University approval to organize on the
grounds of the Manhattan campus an initiative specializing in
preparing professionals to take on leadership roles in libraries
and information centers of large organizations. The initiative,
which is predicted to be a boon for local law firms, businesses,
government agencies and museums, will also devote significant
attention to market research. Olson says he hopes to unveil the
program next spring.
In addition, the University’s library division has partnered
recently with Saint Thomas Aquinas College, in Rockland, NY, to
form a joint bachelor’s/master’s program. Beginning this fall,
Aquinas undergraduates will be able to pursue a St. John’s M.L.S.
degree by attending classes taught by St. John’s professors on