Library Students to Get 'Leading-Edge' Training Thanks to Federal Grant

A newly funded project is expected to advance the way educators train students to become librarians and information professionals.

The University of Arizona’s School of Information Resources and Library Science has received a three-year grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services that will allow for a more hands-on approach to teaching and learning digital library technologies.

The grant, totaling nearly $540,000, with a matching award of about $328,000, made the UA’s school the only institution in the state of Arizona to receive an award from the federal agency’s National Leadership Grants for Libraries. The grant becomes effective Oct. 1.

“This is very leading-edge for the whole discipline. Eventually the majority of classes we teach at SIRLS will be affected by this,” Peter Botticelli, an assistant professor of practice at the school.

“It’s going to have a major impact on how we educate," Botticelli added.

The project, "Improving Student Learning of Advanced Digital Technologies in an Online Laboratory: A Research Approach,” is meant to bring to the classroom the type of learning that students would have had to seek out in an internship.

“This project as a whole is fairly unique – it’s primarily because of the approach to authentic instruction and hands-on learning as a way of introducing the discipline to students,” said Bruce Fulton, the school’s digital project librarian.

The project is an indication of the field’s movement toward data management and more complex research in a data-driven world.

“One of the things we have is a mandate in both our certificate and master’s programs to teach students how to use digital content technology to build digital libraries and to manage them. That’s the new role of libraries,” said Jana Bradley, director of the school, also known as SIRLS.

The UA school’s partners are the UA Libraries, UA University Information and Technology Services, the Harvard University Herbaria and the Missouri Botanical Gardens.

Each of the partner institutions will provide SIRLS with information that then will be recorded and catalogued, then developed into databases – with SIRLS students responsible for these tasks. So, instead of simply having Web sites that simulate the work they would be doing as professionals, the students will have the actual software and other tools to perform more complex work.

SIRLS will use VMWare Lab Manager software – which is quite popular in industry – as the program’s platform to build a virtual online laboratory. “This grant gives us the infrastructure we need to really let us create practical and realistic exercises for students,” said Botticelli, also the co-principal investigator on the grant.

“They will be mimicking the tasks they would see in a library setting,” he said. “It gets beyond the theory and is merging theory and practice.”

The students will gain more practical knowledge, Botticelli said.

Simultaneously, SIRLS will study the effectiveness of the technologies used and how well students are learning in the applied format.

“One of the reasons why we’re leading the field is because we’re the first to put these pieces together,” said Bradley, also the principal investigator on the grant. “We could have written a grant just to build the online environment, but we wanted to also research the learning environment.”