With a higher percentage of citizens of U.S.-affiliated Pacific islands such as the Marshall Islands and Palau less educated than U.S. citizens, the islands need libraries with professionally trained staff to provide many educational services and computer access.
The Department of Library and Information Sciences in the UNT's College of Information will provide full scholarships for 23 residents of the Pacific islands to enroll in its online master's degree program in library and information science.
The goal of the program, called LEAP: Library Education for the U.S.-Affiliated Pacific, is to increase the number and diversity of degreed library professionals for the islands. It is funded by an almost $1 million grant from the federal Institute of Museum and Library Services. This grant was awarded to UNT through IMLS' Laura Bush 21st Century Librarian Program, which provided funds to 38 projects.
The library and information sciences department is collaborating on LEAP with the UNT Libraries and Pacific Resources for Education and Learning, a nonprofit corporation that works with schools and school systems in U.S.-affiliated Pacific islands to provide curriculum development, assessment and evaluation, and other services.
During the 2010-11 academic year, students for the master's degree program will be recruited from:
- American Samoa
- the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands
- the Federated States of Micronesia, comprised of the states of Chuuk, Kosrae, Pohnpei and Yap
- the Republic of the Marshall Islands
- the Republic of Palau
The students will start the master's degree program in August 2011 by attending a nine-day Web Institute class held at the College of Micronesia in Palikar, Pohnpei State. UNT faculty members and two UNT librarians will provide an introduction to the master's degree program. Each student will meet individually with a faculty member for advice on the degree plan and course selection, and each will be assigned to a UNT librarian for mentoring via videoconferencing and online communication. The students will also attend social events with the faculty members and librarians during the nine days.
During the next two years, the students will take online courses to complete the 36 hours required for the master's degree. They will also visit libraries in Pohnpei and attend professional development workshops before graduating in August 2013.
Yvonne Chandler, associate professor of library and information sciences and co-director of LEAP, says some of the students may have previously worked in libraries and want to make librarianship their careers.
She points out that Palau Community College is the only educational institution in the Pacific Islands region that offers formal training in the field -- an associate's degree in library science. The nearest master's degree program, she says, is at a university in Hawaii, and the first indigenous librarian in the region to complete a master's degree died in 1997.
Chandler says that because of the limited number of accredited graduate library and information science programs in the U.S., it's a challenge for any student to pursue an education in librarianship. UNT's online master's program, which has provided the degree to students living in Houston, Georgia, the greater Los Angeles area, Nevada, Virginia and Idaho, Montana, South Dakota and Wyoming, "meets the needs of students in remote areas," she says.
The Pacific Islands region, she says, "is larger than the U.S., and because it's in the middle of an ocean, transportation between islands isn't easy."
"It can take two days to get from one island to another," Chandler says. "In addition, in this economically challenged area, the cost of going to one of the accredited library school programs in the U.S. is out of reach for many island residents, and with the culture very family-oriented, many don't want to leave their hometowns."
Beth Avery, co-director of LEAP, says staff of the UNT Libraries will act as mentors to the Pacific Islands students to play a role similar to that of doctors at a teaching hospital for medical students.
"They will serve as a resource for help with coursework, papers and assignments, and develop understanding of the specific needs of their assigned students," says Avery, who is the head of research and instructional service for UNT Libraries.
Nancy Kolsti with UNT News Service can be reached at Nancy.Kolsti@unt.edu.