Project Abstract

Circle of Learning: American Indian Librarians for Tomorrow

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. This is unfortunate not only because all patrons benefit when the librarians who serve them bring diversity to library programs and services, but also because American Indian and Alaska Native communities, whether in urban areas or on more rural tribal lands, need librarians who bring their understanding of tribal cultures to their work. These librarians are needed in public, school, and academic libraries that serve Native patrons, as well in archives and museums that house collections representing indigenous cultures.

In response, the American Indian Library Association (AILA) is partnering with the School of Information (iSchool) at San Jose State University to launch the Circle of Learning project — an initiative designed to recruit and support American Indians and Alaska Natives who are interested in earning a Master of Library and Information Science (MLIS) degree. Our goal is to increase the number of American Indian and Alaska Native librarians who understand tribal culture and are committed to addressing the challenges faced by libraries serving Native patrons.

Circle of Learning will be the only scholarship program designed exclusively for American Indian and Alaska Native students who want to earn a fully online ALA-accredited MLIS degree, making it possible for them to live anywhere while they earn their degree. Distance learning is an important option for Native students, who place high value on remaining in close proximity to home and tribal communities, rely on family members for support during their college experience, and need to keep existing jobs and community ties while in graduate school.

The program’s students will receive substantial financial assistance and will benefit from a supportive circle of learning that will include faculty, peers, career advisors, technology experts, professional and peer mentors, internship supervisors, and Native leaders in the profession. We will blend online course delivery with face-to-face social and professional interactions, ensuring that our program provides the personalized support needed by Native students.

While earning their MLIS degree, students will have the option to take elective courses focused on library leadership or library services for diverse communities, including a course on Resources and Information Services for Native American Patrons. In addition, students can tailor assignments to their interests, such as writing about tribal library issues in introductory courses. To augment the curriculum, the Circle of Learning project will deliver specialized workshops on topics such as oral history, preservation, information services for American Indian patrons, and current issues facing tribal libraries. Through interactions with the project team, as well as involvement in professional conferences, online and face-to-face workshops, field experiences, and mentoring, students will build a professional network that will benefit them in the years ahead, gain a better understanding of how to serve Native patrons, and be inspired to take on leadership and mentoring roles in the future.

An extensive national recruiting effort will allow us to achieve some of our secondary objectives, including stimulating interest in librarianship among American Indians and Alaska Natives and identifying effective recruitment venues. We will also help build AILA’s mentoring program and expand the number of iSchool internship opportunities focused on serving tribal communities. Through an evaluation of Circle of Learning’s unique blended approach of online curriculum delivery and face-to-face support, we will foster understanding regarding how to address the challenges faced by distance learning students, especially students from a population traditionally more comfortable with face-to-face learning.