USF to recruit librarians for nation

In order to help neutralize an expected shortage of librarians in the future, USF was recognized as a partner in a federal program designed to boost the nation’s future librarian population.

Last month, the School of Library and Information Sciences received a $324,008 grant to support USF’s role in the nationwide initiative. The program began two years after a May 2000 article in the Library Journal revealed that about 40 percent of library directors plan to retire within the next five years.

“The shortage is due to two factors,” said Sonia Ramirez Wohlmuth, assistant director of School of Library and Information Sciences. “One is the aging of those in the workforce now, and the second thing is that library services have expanded to meet population growth.”

First lady Laura Bush, a former librarian herself, made the announcement that during the 2003 fiscal year $10 million would be given by the Institute of Museum and Library Services to combat the possible librarian shortage. The grant application process began soon after.

Grant proposals sent to IMLS included USF’s “Education of Librarians to Serve the Underserved,” which was one of only two approved for the state of Florida. The program will recruit and educate 28 School of Library and Information Sciences graduate students to work in underprivileged Florida counties.

“We’re focused on underserved populations, which include all kinds of people who aren’t normally library users,” Wohlmuth said. “People who live in rural areas are also included in the underserved, as well as the incarcerated and the elderly.”

A special emphasis has been placed on Broward and Miami-Dade counties, which have a high percentage of minorities. The emphasis on Southeast Florida stems from a collaboration with the Southeast Florida Library Information Network and the Miami-Dade Public Library System, but the program will not be limited to these counties alone, Wohlmuth said.

“(Our collaborators) are helping us identify paraprofessional people who work in libraries but don’t have the training to have the librarian title,” Wohlmuth said.

One element of the recruiting process includes reaching out to library directors who know of talented people that don’t have the qualifications to move up, like a master’s degree for example, Wohlmuth said.

The scholarships for the master’s degree program at USF are limited, which calls for a highly selective process of choosing recipients, Wohlmuth said. Although academics count, the students chosen to enter the program will have shown an interest in the community through efforts such as volunteering.

“We have a rating sheet where we look at the student’s academic record and letters of recommendations as well as their resume to see what kind of activity they’ve done in the community,” Wohlmuth said. “We’re looking for people who are interested in the community at large.”