Preserving Black Academic Library History: Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Grant Enables Library Alliance to Tout Successes

By Brooks-Tatum, Shanesha R. F. | American Libraries, January-February 2012 | Go to article overview

Preserving Black Academic Library History: Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Grant Enables Library Alliance to Tout Successes


Brooks-Tatum, Shanesha R. F., American Libraries


The success stories of more than 100 libraries participating in the Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) Library Alliance--involving institutions in 20 states, the District of Columbia, and the US Virgin Islands--are being captured through the Atlanta-based organization's "Preserving Our History" project.

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The two-year effort is funded by a $70,000 grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation awarded to the alliance in January 2011. The goal is to document and disseminate the alliance's history, highlight member success stories, contribute to the literature about libraries and HBCUs, and provide a model of collaboration for other libraries, particularly in Africa and the Caribbean.

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The IIBCU Library Alliance, a consortium that promotes collaboration among information professionals and excellence in library leadership, was established in 2002 and continues to provide an array of trainingand development opportunities for member institutions, including photographic preservation, reports, assessments, and leadership workshops.

So far, the project has documented nine success stories. Here are two of those stories: that of the University of the Virgin Islands (UVI) and the Atlanta University Center.

Meeting academic needs

The University of the Virgin Islands has campuses on St. Thomas and St. Croixand serves more than 2,600 students. Established in 1962, UVI is the only HBCU-as well as the sole institution of higher learning--in the territory.

St. John, the northeastern most island, has no college campus. UVI students who live there must travel to the island's westernmost port, take the ferry to St. Thomas, then take ground transportation (called "safaris") to classes-a trek that can last four hours each way. It is also expensive for students with modest budgets.

After he was inaugurated in March 2010, UVI President David Hall made it a priority to connect with students and community members in St. John as well as St. Thomas and St. Croix. "When I arrived at UVI, I committed myself to figuring out what the answer would be to this problem," Hall explained. He traveled to St. John to discover for himself the experiences of students and met with residents to discuss other obstacles, including the lack of regular access to a library and quiet study spaces.

These discussions led to the establishment of a learning center on the island, the St. John Academic Center. UVI secured funding through an HBCU Student Aid and Fiscal Responsibility Act grant from the US Department of Education. Tina Koopmans, UVI chief information officer, along with library and IT staff, developed a plan for the center and found a location in a major shopping area on St. John. The center, a redesigned gymnasium, set a new standard for academic centers: accessible and embedded in the contours of daily life.

Students can now take classes via videoconferencing at the St. John Academic Center, where a computer lab, a small library, and other electronic resources are at their disposal. The center has the capacity for multiple daily classes from a catalog of 43 offered each semester. While not a full-service campus, the center allows students to reduce their weekly travel between the islands.

With more time to study and less money required for travel, student enrollment increased in one semester's time. "We have seen an increase in our St. John student population from 37 to 47. and we are only at the beginning of this process" Koopmans reported.

"Many of our students arrive at UVI ill-pre pa red for college-level courses." explained Judith Rogers, manager of learning resources and faculty technology services. "The library provides unique resources and strategies to help students develop in the way that they should." The center plans to rotate staffing with librarians 1 rained in information technology. …

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