Latin-American initiatives in library and information science education: three models


Julie Hallmark, Maria Gonzalez

The Authors

Julie Hallmark, Professor at the Graduate School of Library and Information Science, The University of Texas at Austin, Aust

Maria Gonzalez, Doctoral Student at the Graduate School of Library and Information Science, The University of Texas at Austin, Austin, Texas, USA

Abstract

Three programs of the Graduate School of Library and Information Science (GSLIS) at The University of Texas at Austin support education in library and information science in Latin America and present contrasts in goals, participants, and outcomes. We describe briefly the history and development of these programs, discuss obstacles faced by residents in Latin America, and suggest possible future directions.


Article type: Theoretical with worked example, Theoretical with application in practice.

Keywords: Distance learning, Libraries, Information, Modelling.

Content Indicators: Research Implications** Practice Implications** Originality* Readability*


The Electronic Library
Volume 20 Number 5 2002 pp. 390-394
Copyright © MCB University Press ISSN 0264-0473


Introduction

During the last few years, distance education (DE) in library and information science has expanded rapidly. Delivery methods have become more sophisticated, evolving along a continuum which decades ago began with faculty travel to other locations, then progressed to one- and two-way audio and interactive video delivery and, at present, also utilizes the Internet. Obviously, such multiple approaches are not mutually exclusive and, in combination, enhance and add value to course offerings. Distance education is seldom an inexpensive proposition and may require higher tuition than that paid by on-campus students. Furthermore, travel costs as well as necessary hardware and software purchases can increase the financial investment which students must make.

An example of an outstanding and highly successful DE Master's program in the USA is LEEP at the University of Illinois (http://www.lis.uiuc.edu/gslis/degrees/leep.html). Faculty who teach in LEEP combine very brief periods of on-campus instruction with Internet instruction and independent learning. Students travel to the campus for orientation at the beginning of their program and once each semester thereafter; thus, they become acquainted with one another and form a cohesive group. This first-hand familiarization with the school and its personnel contributes to common values and background. The overwhelming majority of the coursework, however, is completed by students at distant sites of their choice. Entrance requirements are rigorous, and international students must have the requisite level of English to be accepted. In contrast with programs like LEEP, this paper describes some very different approaches to DE in library and information science, tailored to populations with unique constraints.

A Latin-American perspective in Austin

Texas is particularly well situated - geographically, culturally, historically, and economically - to participate in cooperative ventures with our Latin-American neighbors. Both the state of Texas and The University of Texas at Austin (UT-Austin) have emphasized and endorsed such efforts. In his 1998 "State of the University" address President Larry Faulkner announced that one of the chief upcoming initiatives for the University would be to expand ties to Latin America in the form of new exchange programs, additional scholarships, and increased interdisciplinary research (Faulkner, 1998). At the same time he predicted the continuing growth of relationships with Mexico, Guatemala, Brazil and Chile, among other Latin-American countries. Another milestone that year was the formation of a new Center for Argentine Studies to join three other centers within the University's Institute of Latin-American Studies (ILAS).

In November 2000 the Latin-American community on campus was delighted and overwhelmed with the announcement of a $10 million gift to the University's Institute for Latin-American Studies (ILAS), the nation's oldest such center and one of the most prestigious. The gift from University graduates Joe and Teresa Lozano Long provides the University with an endowment for research and scholarships. Nearly 60 per cent of the endowment is reserved for students, including funding for undergraduate scholarships and graduate fellowships as well as grants for field research and study abroad. This generous gift was the donors' acknowledgment of "the importance of Latin America in the future of this country and, therefore, the critical role that the Institute continues to play in forging closer ties to Latin America" (The University of Texas at Austin, n.d.).

Representative of UT-Austin's current international programs is the highly successful two-year executive MBA in Mexico offered by the Graduate School of Business. This program is a cooperative venture between UT-Austin and the Instituto Tecnológico y de Estudios Superiores de Monterrey-CCM (ITESM), or El TEC de Monterrey. Graduates receive an MBA from UT-Austin and a Master's in Administration from ITESM-Mexico City. Prior to these relatively recent initiatives by the University, the Graduate School of Library and Information Science at UT-Austin has been committed to the improvement of information services to the state's large Hispanic population during the last three decades. After the school was established in 1950, a number of Hispanic students graduated over the years, of course, but not in proportion with their representation in the state's population (the same, obviously, could be said for African-American students). These discrepancies concerned the School, and during the 1970s the new and very active "Minority recruitment program" reached potential students in South Texas from Beaumont to Brownsville; at the same time individual faculty members began traveling on weekends to teach courses in Houston. In 1991 the School began to offer Master's programs to both El Paso and San Antonio via interactive television; the program has been successful, graduating 126 Hispanic students from 1992 through Fall 2001. Given these experiences, it seemed but a short step for GSLIS to look across the Rio Grande to new opportunities in Latin America.

Challenges in Latin America for LIS education

For a variety of reasons, many residents in Latin America traditionally remain in their home cities and thus are dependent upon whatever LIS education is available locally. Such individuals may simply begin working in libraries and learn on the job with the result that many non-professional employees with little or no LIS education serve as librarians in all types of libraries.

Degree equivalents are problematic. For example, the "licenciatura" from Argentinian universities is the only degree from that country which UT-Austin's Graduate Admissions Office equates to a US Bachelor's degree. Thus, potential students who have other undergraduate qualifications, such as Argentina's "Título Universitario," are not eligible for admission to graduate programs in Austin. Even those librarians who have obtained the licenciatura may face obstacles if they contemplate study abroad. Family responsibilities, for example, often make the pursuit of graduate education in the USA problematic. Latin-American library employees generally have relatively low salaries, even within the local job hierarchy of their community, and high costs of a graduate program may be compounded by unfavorable exchange rates. And funding for graduate scholarships at UT-Austin for non-USA residents is mediocre at best.

Another hurdle to overcome is that of language. Excellent degree programs offered through distance education in the USA typically require a proficiency in English that is often difficult to achieve for potential students who are otherwise well qualified and have the means to pay for their education. Given these significant challenges, it is gratifying indeed to look back over the decades and recall those students who did enroll in UT-Austin and who graduated from GSLIS Master's and Doctoral programs. Employed as professors and librarians in Honduras, Mexico, Peru, Guatemala and elsewhere, they are successful professionals; their numbers, however, are minuscule.

Three GSLIS initiatives in Latin America

El TEC de Monterrey

Monterrey TEC is a private institution, particularly strong in areas such as computer science, business administration, engineering, economics, law, and chemistry. Founded in 1943 by a group of Mexican businessmen, the Monterrey Institute of Technology and Higher Education (Instituto Tecnológico y de Estudios Superiores de Monterrey, or ITESM) was, from the first, a leader in higher education in Mexico. Often referred to as the "MIT of the south," it is without political or religious affiliations. With 30 campuses in Mexico, a student enrollment of 92,000 and a faculty of 7,000, ITESM is truly a superior, influential, and technologically-advanced university. Their Web site provides substantial detail (http://www.sistema.itesm.mx/). TEC's presence is felt throughout Mexico, and their satellite telecasting through the Virtual University (UV) reaches all of Latin America (http://www.ruv.itesm.mx/). The ITESM-UV offers 18 Master's programs as well as Doctoral programs in administration, education, and engineering and technology. Thus, ITESM continues to extend the reach of their excellent faculty and provide quality education to their distant learners.

GSLIS faculty members Julie Hallmark and Mary Lynn Rice-Lively found themselves in Monterrey in Spring 1999, invited by Grupo Vitro, a very large multinational glass and chemical company headquartered in that city. The purpose of the visit was to consult on the future development and funding of the Chemistry Library at the Universidad Autónoma de Nuevo León (Autonomous University of Nuevo León), a library used by Vitro personnel. While in the city, they had the opportunity of speaking briefly with Sr Jose (Pepe) Escamilla of ITESM-UV, whose initial contact with GSLIS, in which he proposed the development of a Web-based Master's program for ITESM, had not received adequate publicity within the School. However, the timing was propitious that spring, and our conversation marked the beginning of the GSLIS/ITESM-UV program.

After considerable discussion GSLIS and TEC agreed to begin with six graduate courses to be taught jointly by the two institutions over the Internet, each to be supplemented by four live video teleconferences. The first course, "Introduction to information resources and services", was offered to the ITESM library staff on campuses throughout Mexico in Fall 1999. Other course offerings include:

In Spring 2001 the series began its second cycle incorporating revised versions of each course.

A unique aspect of these DE courses is the structured cooperation between the two schools. The TEC's sophisticated technological environment provides an outstanding platform for the course content, and the continual interchange between the ITESM-UV instructional and Web design staff and the GSLIS information technology staff has proven to be symbiotic indeed. Each course has a lead content professor in Austin and a lead instructional professor in Monterrey, assisted by several tutor professors and numerous teaching assistants (Rice-Lively, 2000; Martinez-Arellano, 2000). Although the course content is in English, Hypernews class discussions and e-mail exchange are conducted in Spanish. Rice-Lively (2000) explains:

The instructional model combines work teams in both cities, thus enabling strong course content that reflects the context of library and information services in Mexico and is adapted to the telecommunications infrastructure of the ITESM campus.

Universidad de Buenos Aires (UBA)

Some years ago the Argentinian foundation Fundación Antorchas, headquartered in Buenos Aires, began to contemplate increased support of Argentinean libraries and librarians. Realizing the significance for Argentina of improving both information services and preservation/conservation of library and archival material and willing to commit significant funds for the effort, Antorchas was to change the face of libraries and archives in Argentina.

In January 1997 directors from Antorchas and its parent, the Lampadia Foundation, paid an exploratory visit to UT-Austin's Graduate School of Library and Information Science. Accompanied by Professor Elsa Barber, director of the school of Bibliotecología de la Facultad de Filosofía y Letras (the Library School of the Faculty of Philosophy and Letters) at the University of Buenos Aires (UBA), they wished to discuss options and possible directions for a joint program. As outlined in its annual report of 1997-1998, Antorchas visualized the support of libraries and library education on several fronts (Fundación Antorchas, 1998).

Selected graduates who had obtained the licenciatura from UBA's library school would be awarded scholarships to obtain the MIS and/or advanced specializations in preservation or conservation in Austin. Simultaneously, Antorchas committed to increased support to selected Argentinian libraries with the goal of improving services.

Antorchas' 1998-1999 annual report described an expanded vision of exchange and cooperation. They proposed an arrangement whereby professors from GSLIS would visit UBA to lecture and consult, and UBA faculty members would visit Austin to consult with persons of similar interests, visit classes, conduct research, visit area libraries and other information agencies, and purchase LIS materials. At this point Antorchas also proposed the construction of a computer laboratory for UBA, as well as a conservation laboratory and program.

Over the years these visions and Antorchas' generous funding have resulted in an active, continuing interchange of faculty and students. From June 1998 when the first UT-Austin faculty member traveled to Buenos Aires until the present, some eight Austin professors and doctoral candidates have enjoyed lecturing, learning, and sightseeing in that great city. In the reverse direction, 16 UBA faculty and adjunct faculty members have visited Austin. Tango bars and "asadas" featuring the world-famous Argentinian beef at one end and Western dancing at the Broken Spoke and Texas barbecue at the other have resulted in close friendships and greater international understanding. Studying Spanish has become de rigueur for GSLIS faculty.

Cuban libraries and library education

In March 2000 Julie Hallmark traveled throughout Cuba for 11 days as part of a group of academic librarians and LIS educators led by Rhonda Neugebauer, a leading US expert on Cuban librarianship. One of her goals was to learn more about the values, practices and educational preparation of Cuban librarians and information specialists. Meetings and candid discussions with staff and faculty during visits to the Biblioteca Nacional "José Martí" (Cuban National Library); the Escuela Nacional de Técnicos de Bibliotecas (National Technical Library School); and the new quarters for ASCUBI, the national organization of Cuban librarians, opened the way for an initial exchange of study materials. Neugebauer's (2000) report on the trip has been widely circulated in the USA and provides details of the excursion.

For Cuban faculty members, securing access to up-to-date teaching materials in both Spanish and English is a high priority. Several titles used in both US and Cuban library schools are of particular interest to them, as well as number of reference works considered standard in most libraries but unavailable in Cuba. GSLIS faculty and students have gathered and sent shipments of textbooks and reference materials to the Escuela Nacional. Periodically, friends and colleagues deliver additional materials and texts when they visit Habana.

The professional library curriculum in Cuba includes such fundamental areas as information resources and services, collection development, preservation, organization of information, management and youth and special services.

The library school of the University of Habana, formalized in 1947, has graduated most of Cuba's professional library leaders. Founded in 1962, the National Technical Library School provides a three-year program, capped with an internship and thesis. These two schools have the responsibility of preparing specialists to staff a network of more than 300 libraries including the national library, provincial, and university libraries (International Center for Distance Learning, 2000). Many trained librarians serve public schools.

Cuban librarians have traditionally kept current with service trends, automation, electronic and Internet-based resources and communications, etc. by way of workshops, conferences and participation in professional organizations. In 1994, Cuba hosted the IFLA (International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions) Annual Conference (IFLA, 1994). Marta Terry Gonzalez, then Director of the Cuban National Library and active member in IFLA, delivered the opening address of the week-long conference. Her address acknowledged the benefits of IFLA participation in the efforts to break the blockade, so critical to the library profession. She highlighted the importance of mutual assistance and solidarity aid to professional attainment. Cuban library leadership maintains active membership in the Association of National Libraries in Ibero-America (ABINIA), the Network of Libraries and Systems of Information for Latin America and the Caribbean (INFOLAC), and other organizations.

Since the 1980s, the University of Habana has been advancing their own distance education program which presently supports five courses of study and postgraduate work in distance education (http://www.uh.cu/facultades/edistancia/index.htm). The University of Habana is a member of CREAD, the Inter-American Distance Education Consortium (1998), a partnership of universities dedicated to distance education based at Pennsylvania State University.

GSLIS is presently participating in a university-wide initiative to formalize an exchange agreement between the University of Texas and the University of Habana. Several meetings have been organized and have paved the way for formulating research programs attractive to scholars from both countries. GSLIS, of course, hopes to expand professional networks and improve systems for the delivery of library and information science education. As the Cuban library schools update their computer networks and hardware in order to make the Internet more widely available to students, GSLIS hopes to cooperate in the translation and development of Web-based teaching materials in order to offer courses in cooperation with our colleagues in Cuba.

Conclusion

In the last decade GSLIS has been a leader among US schools of library and information science in offering LIS options to Latin America. Although frustrating at times, these efforts have benefited the school enormously, broadening our horizons and offering challenges and rewards through our roles as both teachers and researchers.

The Lozano Long endowment has energized the University's Latin-American community. As GSLIS continues to adapt and expand both its electronically-based and traditional curricula to meet the needs of its constituencies in Latin America, we hope that greater numbers of qualified students from that vast area will be able to visit UT-Austin to take advantage of opportunities in research and study on campus.


References

Faulkner, L., 1998, State of the University Address.

Fundación Antorchas, 1998, Annual Report.

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International Center for Distance Learning, 2000, Universidad de La Habana.

International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA), 1994, Las Bibliotecas Públicas para Niños en Cuba.

Martinez-Arellano, F.F., 2000, "Library science education in Mexico", Journal of Education for Library and Information Science, 41, 147-57.

Neugebauer, R.L., 2000, "Report on Cuban libraries", International Leads.

Rice-Lively, M.L., 2000, "Borderless education at UT-Austin GSLIS", Texas Library Journal, 76, 2, 58-60.

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