A Library Director Goes Back to School—and Lands a Grant
“It’s definitely a confidence booster to get a grant in the six figures the first time.”
Library Director, Fresno Pacific University, California
MLIS Student, Expected Graduation Fall 2015
The San José State University School of Information’s students hail from a variety of educational backgrounds, countries and careers. Some are just starting out in the world of library and information science, but some, like Kevin Enns-Rempel, are lifetime library professionals looking to advance their working knowledge with an academic backbone.
An archivist for more than 20 years, Enns-Rempel’s professional education came from on-the-job experience. When Fresno Pacific University’s library needed an interim director a few years ago, Enns-Rempel was asked to step in—temporarily, he thought. “I ended up liking the job a lot more than I thought I would,” he explains, “and applied for the regular [library] director position in 2012, with the stipulation that I’d go back and get the MLIS degree. So I’m in the MLIS program after decades of working in the library.”
The Art of the Successful Grant
With the grant writing course, Enns-Rempel thought: “I have no experience in this. I could probably do this if I tried it on my own, but why not benefit from someone who has professional experience and can show me how to do it?”
That thinking clearly paid off. Enns-Rempel successfully wrote and secured a grant from the Fletcher-Jones Foundation to upgrade Fresno Pacific’s integrated library system from Millennium to a new product called Sierra, which will bring the library’s technology into the 21st century.
What he learned from the course was simply everything it takes to write a successful grant. “It was the entire systematic process,” he confirms, “starting with finding out how one goes about determining what funding sources exist… that very basic level of scanning the landscape, asking who would give an institution like us money for the kinds of things we want to do. The class has you go through every step of the process, not all of which is relevant to each grant, but it prepares you for anything a funder might ask.”
There were challenges to consider, but also aspects of the university that Enns-Rempel was able to highlight as benefits to obtaining a grant. “Fresno Pacific University is a unique breed,” Enns-Rempel explains of his workplace. “It’s a private university in the Central [California] Valley, and a federally funded Hispanic Serving Institution (HSI), which is also unusual. We serve a largely first-generation college population, and we’re located in the middle of the state,” where private colleges are a rarity.
Following lessons learned in his grant writing course, Enns-Rempel took all of that into consideration when writing the grant: what makes this university stand out, what makes them deserving of a grant, who are they and who are they serving? “And beyond that, we have to write a compelling case for why this thing we need to fund will move us forward: to do the type of life-transforming work we intend to do with our students, we need that type of infrastructure to make it work.”
Enns-Rempel adds that his research showed that the Fletcher-Jones Foundation primarily supports private colleges and universities in California, and they give grants for technology infrastructure projects, which he says a lot of foundations won’t do. “We asked for the full amount that it would cost” to upgrade the library management software, he says, “and we got the entire amount. The servers arrived at the beginning of May, and we should be operational by the end of June!”
There is one downside to being such a success in grant writing on his first try, he notes: “Once the provost figures out you have the ability to do this and you ask [him for other] funding, he might say, ‘Well you know how to write a grant, go do it.’ ”
“But it’s definitely a confidence booster to get a grant in the six figures the first time.”
MLIS in the Real World
As the director of an academic library, Enns-Rempel is taking courses from the Academic and Management career pathways, with a special focus on information literacy. “Basically every class I’m taking is because I see a direct application to what I’m doing or what I ought to be doing [professionally].
“Breadth and depth of a collection is important,” he explains, “but even the best library isn’t much good if your users don’t know how to use it well. So we’ve been trying to think about how we can help not only students learn to use the library, but faculty as well. How they can understand library resources, make intelligent decisions—all the things we roll together in the category of information literacy.”
Enns-Rempel’s plans for the future are to finish his MLIS program, continue providing the best possible library services for students and faculty at Fresno Pacific University, and ultimately retire from his current position, years from now. Today he’s just enjoying the best of both worlds, professionally and academically.
“One of the luxuries of doing a program like this when I already have the job I want is I can pick the classes that will do the most good for what I’m doing,” he says. “It’s not like I’m being a student rather than a librarian: I’m able to see both sides.”