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Librarians pressed to save school

By Keren G. Raz
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Friday January 17, 2003

With the country facing a librarian shortage, and the looming possibility of the School of Information Resources and Library Science being eliminated, director Brook Sheldon is already organizing students, alumni, and community members to support her school.

Yesterday she sent out a letter to Congressman Raul Grijalva, the state librarian, and the Hispanic coalition, asking for their support.

But she knows community support alone won't save her school.

In a climate of budget cuts and financial struggles, Sheldon said the key to survival is money.

"I think the administration sees an opportunity in a sense to get rid of one if its fiscal demands by making us more self-sufficient," she said.

As SIRLS is threatened with elimination, students, alumni and administrators at the school are focusing on plans to prove to President Pete Likins and Provost George Davis that the school can find its own funds.

In a memo released on Tuesday, Likins and Davis identified SIRLS as one of the 16 programs they may eliminate in June.

SIRLS's existence within the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences, among other programs the administration has bragged about for years, such as philosophy and psychology, is a dominant reason behind its possible elimination, Davis said.

Recently those programs have had their resources drained as a result of a series of cuts in state funding.

Now as part of Focused Excellence, the administration does not want to see philosophy, psychology and sociology's budgets cut further.

Instead, "we want to explore whether (SIRLS) can be largely self-sustaining," Davis said.

SIRLS administrators are exploring the option in order to survive the cuts. Students, alumni, faculty and staff have begun to organize and take action in order to prove to administration that they can survive without additional funds from the university.

A new business plan has already been submitted, which includes a program fee for the master's program, Sheldon said.

Although she would not specify how much the program fee would be, she said, "the new plan, if implemented, would enable us to greatly improve services for students, hire new faculty and increase financial aid."

In addition to charging students a program fee, people at SIRLS are beginning to look outside the university for grants, endowments and other private funds.

Right now SIRLS brings in $537,000 in grants and contracts.

Yesterday Patricia Montiel Overall, a master's student in SIRLS and an assistant adjunct professor in the College of Education, pledged to help SIRLS get grants that will sustain it financially.

Overall said experience in the grants office for the city of Tucson will help her obtain contacts and eventually funds.

Now she plans to go to the Hispanic community, the Native American community and the casinos to secure financial support for her school.

"We will get the money for the program," she said. "I know where to get the money, and I'm going to tap into them."

Beyond money

As Overall and Sheldon are trying to secure funds for SIRLS, other students and alumni are trying to make the community aware of the program's importance.

Students have already begun a letter writing campaign to Likins, congressmen, alumni and even people at the presidential level.

"I'm going to try to write to Laura Bush," said Krissy Cwengros, a library science graduate student, who drives all the way from Phoenix one day a week to take classes at SIRLS because it is the only library science school in Arizona.

SIRLS is not just the only library science school in Arizona, it is the only school of its kind between California and Texas.

As a result, 31 percent of all graduate students at SIRLS come from out of state, Sheldon said.

In addition, SIRLS reaches out to minorities. Of the 204 students in SIRLS, 30 are Hispanic and nine are Native American.

Recently SIRLS landed a $500,000 grant to fund a program it calls "Knowledge River" that focuses on the needs of Hispanics and Native Americans.

"The president is strongly in favor of diversity, and (Knowledge River) is something that does that," Overall said.

It is for reasons such as the diversity of SIRLS, the national shortage of librarians and the 96 percent job placement that Sheldon, students and alumni are saying SIRLS needs to survive.

"We'd hate to see one of the few library schools in the country close, because the need is so great," said Jo Reister, head of the SIRLS alumni association.

Even though the news has just been announced, students, alumni and faculty are finding out that they're not alone in their fight against elimination.

Librarians from all over the state are also working with Sheldon to try to save SIRLS, said Carla Stoffle, dean of libraries.

"I think we need to demonstrate to the campus that graduates from this program are desperately needed," she said.


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