Highlights of the Circle of Learning Project


Published: November 11, 2014 by Dr. Chris Hagar

A Tribal library administrator, a university information specialist, an archivist, a health sciences research manager and a youth services specialist – what do these information professionals have in common? They are all Native Americans who recently earned their Master of Library and Information Science (MLIS) degrees, graduating from the SJSU School of Information (iSchool) as part of the Circle of Learning (COL) project.

Less than 0.3% of our nation’s librarians are American Indians and Alaska Natives, and the numbers of Native people in library school have always been the smallest of all minority groups. Beginning in 2010, the Circle of Learning scholarship project was funded for four years by the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) and the SJSU iSchool, in partnership with the American Indian Library Association (AILA). COL’s goal was to recruit and support a cohort of American Indians and Alaska Natives in earning a fully online MLIS degree, thereby increasing the number of Native librarians who understand tribal culture and are committed to addressing the challenges faced by libraries serving Native patrons. The COL project was also designed to study the effectiveness of blending an online curriculum delivery model with virtual and face-to-face cohort supports.

During the grant period, 14 out of the 19 scholarship students earned their MLIS degrees online while living and working in their own communities, receiving financial assistance and benefitting from a supportive circle that included faculty, peers, career advisors, technology experts, professional and peer mentors, internship supervisors, and Native leaders in the profession. Four more students will complete their degrees in December 2014, with the remaining student planning to graduate within a year of the grant’s end.


The program recruited 32 applicants and accepted 19 qualified students in two cohorts. Some of the unique program elements included:

  • Project communications provided ongoing and proactive academic and personal advising with students in a variety of formats, including personal email and telephone calls, teleconferences, web conferences, and electronic forums by program leaders, student peers, and professional mentors.
  • 5 formal, multi-day face-to-face meetings for COL students were held, including a kick-off meeting on the San Jose campus, one meeting in conjunction with the Spectrum Institute at the ALA Annual Conference, and 3 meetings held in conjunction with the International Conference of Indigenous Archives, Libraries, and Museums (ATALM).
  • 17 live video web conferences and workshops provided students “face-to-face”- like contact.
  • Other live networking with peers and professionals was encouraged via organized grant meetings and travel support.
  • Focused trainings helped students develop and deliver professional presentations at professional meetings.


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