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Evaluating the Laura Bush 21st Century Grant Program
Posted On February 25, 2014
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On Jan. 19, the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) released an evaluation study of the Laura Bush 21st (LB21) Century grant program. Launched in 2003, LB21 was designed to address a range of challenges facing libraries throughout the United States.

At the turn of the century, the IMLS recognized an urgent need for new librarians ready to assume leadership roles as Baby Boomers retired. At the same time, the American population was becoming increasingly diverse; these populations were not well-represented among librarians in the field. Advances in technology also were evident, requiring changes in educational programs to assure that graduates were ready to deal with the challenges ahead.

IMLS spent nearly $200 million in LB21 grant funding between 2003 and 2013 on grant projects designed to ensure a robust, qualified library workforce. Grantees included schools of library and information science (SLIS), colleges and universities, library consortia, library associations, not-for-profit organizations, and public libraries/library systems.

The goal of the LB21 grant program evaluation was determining the impact that LB21 grants have had on the education, training, research, and diversity of the LIS field; identifying factors influencing grant program success that could be replicated in subsequent projects; documenting elements of grant projects contributing to project success; and providing recommendations to help future grant programs and grantees. Conducted by an independent third party, ICF International, the evaluation team studied 109 grant projects in six LB21 funding categories:

  • Master’s-level programs
  • Doctoral programs
  • Early LIS faculty career development
  • Continuing education
  • Building institutional capacity
  • Research on the LIS field

Using a comparative case study approach, the team looked at how programs addressed diversity, used program innovations designed to enhance learning, created partnerships, measured success, and sustained programs (and program elements) past the period of funding. The team also conducted benchmarking interviews to gather supplemental information from other federal agencies with comparable grant programs, including the National Science Foundation (Directorate for Computer and Information Science and Engineering and Directorate for Education and Human Resources) and Department of Education (Office of Postsecondary Education).

LB21 was successful in building the nation’s library workforce. As a direct result of funding, grantees were able to enroll greater numbers of students and introduce new courses in topic areas of interest to the students that were much needed in the field. Enrollment in doctoral programs led to increased LIS research and an LIS faculty ready to teach the librarians of the future. Beneficiaries of LB21 grant funding moved into librarian positions to serve the American public.

The ICF team explored how LB21 funds were used in these grants, identifying five major types of grant activities occurring in LB21 funding:

  1. Coursework education: LB21 funds were used to develop new courses and modify existing ones, delivering courses in different ways (e.g., online; weekend). Some funds were used for resources, including textbooks.
  2. Training and development opportunities: Funds were used for participant travel, bringing expert speakers to programs, student memberships in library associations, and support of fieldwork/internship and mentoring programs.
  3. Research: The research conducted through LB21 grants has been shared through conference presentations and publication so that other institutions can use what has been learned and continue the work.
  4. Funding supports: Funds were used for student scholarships, as well as to provide stipends for students, support staff, and faculty.
  5. Recruiting: Activities to promote diversity in programs often involved advertisements targeting specific minority populations.

The study identifies several grant activities that improve the ability of library schools to recruit a diverse student body and assure that students complete their courses of study. For example, grantees learned that they were more likely to do the following:

  • Recruit a diverse student body when they employed several approaches to recruit students (as opposed to relying too heavily on a single method for recruiting students); took a conversational approach and maintained a sustained effort over time, involving leaders within a community to bring students into a program; and provided scholarships that covered the small things often overlooked, such as the high costs of textbooks and travel reimbursements for interesting internship placements that might be long distance.
  • Retain students through completion by allowing learners to take the lead in designing their programs of study; having multiple ways of engaging students beyond the classroom (e.g., through internships, trips to libraries/archives/museums, and mentoring programs); including participant-specific examples in workshops; supporting distance learners in ways that foster a sense of belonging to the program that mimics those taking courses on-campus; and offering “summer stipends” for dissertation research that enables Ph.D. candidates to complete their studies on time.

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Barbie E. Keiser is an information resources management consultant located in the metropolitan Washington, D.C., area.

Email Barbie E. Keiser

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