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TL v60n3: Rural Library Professionals as Change Agents in the 21st Century
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Tennessee Libraries 

Volume 60 Number 3



 Rural Library Professionals as Change Agents in the 21st Century: Integrating Information Technology Competencies in the Southern and Central Appalachian Region


Bharat Mehra, Assistant Professor
School of Information Sciences, University of Tennessee

Kimberly Black, Assitant Professor
School of Information Sciences, University of Tennessee

Vandana Singh, Assitant Professor
School of Information Sciences, University of Tennessee

Nancy Renfro, Director
Watauga Regional Library

Don Reynolds, Director
Nolichucky Regional Library

Susan Simmons, Director
Clinch-Powell Regional Library

K.C. Williams, Systems Director
Sevier County Public Library System


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 Presented at the 2010 TLA Annual Conference 


The University of Tennessee’s School of Information Sciences ( was recently awarded a grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services’ (IMLS) Laura Bush 21st Century Librarian Program ( for $567,660 to tackle lagging information technology literacy in rural libraries in the Southern and Central Appalachians. Led by principal investigator Dr. Bharat Mehra and co-PIs Drs. Kimberly Black and Vandana Singh, the grant entitled “Rural Library Professionals as Change Agents in the 21st Century: Integrating Information Technology Competencies in the Southern and Central Appalachian Region (ITRL)” ( has allowed UT SIS to offer 16 full scholarships to students working in the Southern and Central Appalachia’s rural libraries (broadly defined) to study part-time at a distance in its master’s degree program from June 2010 - August 2012. The ITRL program is facilitating partnerships with a team of regional library systems that include:

The objective of collaborating with the grant partners and others is to develop and offer the ITRL students a relevant coursework tailored for a specialization in Information Technology and Rural Librarianship. The web-based curriculum allows the ITRL students to develop tangible IT and rural library management outcomes that will directly impact change in their local communities, and upon graduation, the students will be prepared to assume leadership roles in their libraries and the region.

On March 18, 2010, during a panel discussion at the Tennessee Library Association Annual Conference 2010 in Memphis, Tennessee, three library and information science (LIS) educators (Mehra, Black, and Singh) and two library practitioners (Renfro and Simmons) interacted with 10-15 members in the audience about ITRL planning and recruitment activities pursued during the Phase 1 of the grant as well as future ITRL activities that will strengthen ties between LIS educators in the UT SIS and rural library professionals in the region. Important issues discussed during the event included panel participant and audience roles, responses and feedback received from people about the ITRL program, special issues or needs for populations related to IT in rural Appalachia, elements of LIS education and training that have worked well or poorly in rural libraries, benefits and challenges of the ITRL program, and efforts that can make the ITRL program’s experience positive, relevant, and meaningful. This paper highlights key aspects addressed during the panel discussion related to the current ITRL activities and future steps identified in the subsequent phases of the grant.

Phase 1 (October 2009 – February 2010): Recruitment of the ITRL Students

The ITRL Recruitment Board was established with 10 members (both MLS and non-MLS professionals) who are directors/staff members of partnering regional library systems and others in the SCA region. In addition to the members of the formal board, there was significant involvement of state librarians, regional library directors, county library directors, and others in the nine states identified within the SCA region (i.e., AL, GA, KY, MS, NC, SC, TN, VA, WV) who assisted in marketing and promotion efforts, creating a plan for competitive recruitment of students including the development of recruitment materials and criteria for selection, identifying potential candidates from their staff and community populations, and helping them complete admission procedures and application materials in a timely manner.

According to UT SIS Director Dr. Ed Cortez, “Improving library services in rural America is an imperative for community and economic sustainability. When people are unemployed, socially disconnected and in need of support and encouragement they often turn to their community libraries. The result of this important project means that when people in need turn to their libraries they will be greeted and served by sensitive professional librarians skilled in the newest information technologies and service delivery techniques.” Eleven of the selected ITRL students are working in public library settings, three students in school libraries, and one student each in a non-profit community library and academic library.

The ITRL students will receive full-tuition for two years, a laptop, and an allowance for materials. More importantly, each student will receive individual formal/informal mentoring by both a faculty member in the school and a practicing information professional selected by them or assigned from volunteers who have agreed to serve in this capacity. Students will continue to work as paraprofessionals in their rural libraries while taking coursework at the school.

Applications were reviewed in January 2010 and a decision about the final pool was made by the end of February 2010. Students were admitted into the ITRL program by April 15, 2010. Half of the ITRL scholarship recipients are from Tennessee, while three students are from Virginia, two students from Kentucky, and one student each from Georgia, Maryland, and North Carolina.

The ITRL selection committee identified the top candidates who will use their ITRL experiences to extend their leadership and capacities and translate their vision for their rural libraries into a reality that makes a difference in their Appalachian communities. According to Dr. Mehra, “It was a really tough decision since I personally communicated with more than 70 people who showed interest in ITRL. Thirty-two candidates submitted their application materials, and we are very fortunate to have an excellent cohort where each person has a unique dream, passion, determination, and skills to succeed and lead their library communities in the 21st Century.”  

The following 16 ITRL students start their coursework in summer 2010:    

  • Beverly Sue Chalman, Library Director, Charles Ralph Holland Memorial Library, Gainesboro, Tennessee
  • Brittany Renee Fletcher, Elementary School Teacher/Media Team Member, Mountain City Elementary School Media Center, Mountain City, Tennessee
  • Julie Forkner, Reference Librarian, E. G. Fisher Public Library, Athens, Tennessee
  • Sally Elizabeth Gilliam, Library Assistant, Lonesome Pine Regional Library, Big Stone Gap, Virginia
  • Angela Cortellino Glowcheski, Information Specialist, Lumpkin County Public Library, Chestatee Regional Library, Dahlonega, Georgia
  • Richard George Haynes, Director, Harlan County Public Library System, Harlan, Kentucky
  • Kevin Sean Jump, Circulation Assistant, Weeks-Townsend Memorial Library, Barbourville, Kentucky
  • Lauren Long, Library Technologist, Madison County Public Library, Marshall, North Carolina
  • Susan Elaine Macrellis, Library Director, East Ridge City Library, East Ridge, Tennessee
  • Helen Frances Owen, Instructional Supervisor for Materials and Supplies, Teacher Resource Center, Sevier County School System, Sevierville, Tennessee
  • Marilyn J. Pontius, Hancock War Memorial Branch Library, Washington County Free Library, Washington County, Maryland
  • Deborah J. Ratliff, Branch Manager/Program Specialist, Goshen Public Library, Rockbridge Regional Library, Goshen, Virginia
  • Christine Maness Smith, Branch Manager, C. Bascom Slemp Memorial Library, Lonesome Pine regional Library System, Big Stone Gap, Virginia
  • Susan J. Williams, Resource Center/Education Coordinator, Highlander Research and Education Center, New Market, Tennessee
  • Vicki Michelle Crawford Winstead, Library Media Specialist, Jackson Elementary School Library, Kingsport, Tennessee
  • Amber Dawn Woodard, Library Technical Assistant, Cumberland University, Lebanon, Tennessee.

Phase 2 (January – May 2010): Needs Assessment of Rural Library Services

Eleven focus groups/interviews were conducted as a part of the ITRL Needs Assessment Symposium (online and face-to-face meetings) in March/April 2010 and 50 library and information professionals from across the SCA region provided feedback about library services and information challenges experienced in their rural libraries. Synchronous online sessions using voice-over-Internet-protocols (VOIP) and face-to-face focus groups/interviews were orchestrated to address local information needs, use of information resources and services, challenges and barriers, areas of improvement, and IT and computers use. The following were the needs assessment sessions that were orchestrated: five face-to-face focus groups, two online focus group (synchronous, voice-over-IP interview), one email interview, two face-to-face interview, and one telephone interview. The participants were: Twenty-eight county or branch public library directors/managers, four  regional library staff, two regional library directors, two medical and allied health librarians, two outreach or community librarians, two library assistants, one reference and instruction librarian, one information literacy librarian, one special library programs director, one technical resource professional, one information services supervisor, one technology coordinator,  one genealogy assistant, one library web coordinator, one public library assistant director, and one other library administrator. Work environments of participants were located in the follwing locations:

  • Kentucky: Ashland, Franklin, and Hazard
  • Tennessee: Blountville, Caryville, Clinton, Coalfield, Deer Lodge, Elizabethton, Erwin, Gray, Greeneville, Harrogate, Huntsville, Jacksboro, Jellico, Johnson City, Kingsport, Knoxville, LaFollette, Lake City, Maynardville, New Tazewell, Norris, Oakdale, Sevierville, Wartburg.
  • West Virginia: Thomas, Yellow Spring.

Phase 3 (Ongoing from May 2010): Implementation of Educational and Training Activities

Along with studying the foundational theory and practice of library and information sciences, students in the program will learn about technology planning, assessment, and analysis; database and web design, development, and usability; building digital library, Web portals, and Library 2.0 tools; and how to establish hardware and software configurations for networking systems. Students will also learn a rich suite of rural management skills, such as application of planning and service evaluation, resource building and collection development, strategic marketing and promotion, and grant writing and partnership leveraging.

Phase 4 (Ongoing from May 2010): Mentoring

Sixteen librarians with MLS degrees have formed the ITRL Practitioner-Mentoring Board that is working with the ITRL educators to tailor individual student’s academic programs in integrating IT competencies to meet the needs of their rural library and community. Educators from UT SIS and practitioner-mentors from the ITRL Practitioner-Mentoring Board have started to identify learning objectives, course recommendations, and research projects to enhance IT skills with rural library applications. Faculty and practitioner-mentors will develop profiles of work/position descriptions and IT expectations for each ITRL student. Each work/position profile will incorporate specific IT content and rural management applications.

Phase 5 (Ongoing): Evaluation of Program Outcomes and Dissemination of Results

ITRL administrators have taken a multi-pronged approach to evaluate and assess grant activities and disseminate program results. These are planned ongoing and throughout the duration of the grant. Following are some of the activities that have been conducted:

  • Various press releases about the grant have been distributed to regional library directors, county library directors, and others in the SCA region. For example, see the press release about the announcement of the ITRL recipients as a News Item on the SIS Homepage ( Some of the press releases have been posted on several electronic mailing lists associated with: JESSE (; StanleyK (; Tennessee State Library and Archives (; Tennessee Association of School Librarians (; Association of Rural and Small Libraries (; UT SIS (,,,, nine state library associations; Publib (; amongst others. The ITRL new story has been shared in the Interface SIS Newsletter (Fall 2009 and Spring 2010 issues) (, The Daily Beacon, Scoop Magazine, and ALISE News (2009). 
  • ITRL flyers have been distributed and ITRL news and findings have been presented at conferences and other venues that include: American Library Association 2009 Annual Conference (July 9-15, 2009, in Chicago, IL); Virginia Library Association 2009 Annual Conference (October 29-30, 2010, in Williamsburg, VA); Association of Rural and Small Libraries 2009 Annual Conference (September 10-13, 2009, in Gatlinburg, TN); 19th Annual Conference of the Association for Black Culture Centers (ABCC) (November, 5-8, 2009, in Cleveland, OH); American Association of School Librarians National Conference (November, 5-8, 2009, in Charlotte, NC); Association for Library and Information Science Education 2010 Annual Conference (January, 12-15, 2010, in Boston, MA); IMLS WebWise Conference on Libraries and Museums in the Digital World (March 3-5, 2010, in Denver, CO); and the Tennessee Library Association 2010 Annual Conference (17-19 March, 2010, in Memphis, TN). Dissemination of ITRL news and information at local venues have included: SIS Advisory Board Meeting (September 18, 2009, in Knoxville, TN); SIS Student Mixer Social with the UT Hodges Library (October 1, 2009, IN Knoxville, TN); Tennessee Library Association Staff Development Workshop (October 27, 2009, in Blount County, TN); East Tennessee Library Association monthly meeting (November 12, 2009, in Knoxville, TN); and the UT Virtual Library Steering Committee (February 24, 2010, in Knoxville, TN).
  • In addition to the reports for the IMLS, two articles will share ITRL experiences in forthcoming issues of the Journal of Education for Library and Information Science.
  • Jenna Nolt, SIS master’s student, has been hired from Spring 2010 to assist in project management and to develop an ITRL web page ( and keep it updated.  This website contains information about the program that was used for recruitment at the beginning of the program, and is growing as the program progresses. Information on project partners and their websites, curriculum, and information on the various courses will be made available on this website.

In the future, the ITRL students will be encouraged to present papers at professional conferences and meetings of the Tennessee Library Association, Public Library Association, and the American Library Association, where they will have opportunities to tell others about the program, formally through presentations and informally in conversations. Annual and final online ITRL Summits (September 2011 and September 2012) will provide opportunities to share evaluation conducted continuously during the grant duration to analyze the effectiveness of students’ experiences in developing IT applications in their courses for their work environments. Efforts will be made to collect data on ITRS students' career choices, academic success, professional association participation, and the graduates’ evaluation of the program throughout their period of study.


Rural Appalachian communities experience relatively low levels of information literacy, educational attainment, and a lack of access to information technologies. Library professionals embedded in these communities are in a strong position to help address and develop solutions to meet these needs.

The ITRL program is a collaborative effort from conception to completion. Educators, practitioner partners, rural librarian students, and libraries are working together to improve library services and materials across the SCA region.  We hope this collaboration will continue long after the ITRL students graduate.


We appreciate the recently funded IMLS grant that is helping to support activities reported in this paper. We gratefully acknowledge the participation and contributions of various individuals and institutions that have shown interest and support of the UTSIS Information Technology Rural Librarian Master’s Scholarship Program.

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