SLIS Faculty Receive Over $1.2 Million in IMLS Grants

Aug 22, 2022

Drs. Bharat Mehra and Robert Riter

The School of Library and Information Studies (SLIS) and its partners recently received three grants totaling more than $1.2 million. The grants were each awarded by the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) and come as part of a $21 million investment in library and archive initiatives by IMLS.

Each grant was made possible by the collaborative efforts of SLIS faculty, archives-related agencies, libraries and higher education institutions across the nation.

“The University of Alabama SLIS has a history of community engaged scholarship to the state and beyond,” said Dr. Jamie Campbell Naidoo, interim director of SLIS. “I’m excited to see our faculty embarking on newly funded projects with community partners that focus on closing achievement gaps in young children and training current and future diverse library and information studies professionals to engage in critical work that creates environments to foster important cross-cultural conversations between these individuals and the pluralistic communities they serve.”

SLIS professor and EBSCO Endowed Chair in Social Justice, Dr. Bharat Mehra is a leading collaborator in the three grants and believes collaboration is vital to the success of the projects and the advancement of social justice within library and archival studies.

“To make an impact on everyday lives in their external communities, institutions have to find creative ways to collaborate and partner across boundaries of all sorts, whether it is across institutions, organizations, private-public sectors, community groups, individuals, etc.,” Mehra said. “Collaboration is important in the various projects because it allows us to tap into the synergies across diverse settings and bring different entities together to apply complementary strengths and further social justice and social equity.”

Training of Community-Embedded Social Justice Archivists (SJ4a)

Mehra and Dr. Robert Riter, Marie Drolet Bristol-EBSCO endowed professor, were awarded a grant entitled “Training of Community-Embedded Social Justice Archivists.” The SLIS faculty members will recruit and train 12 Black, Indigenous and people of color paraprofessionals working in community‐based archives settings to earn library science master’s degrees from The University of Alabama Online. The curriculum will combine social justice and inclusivity with archival studies. The cohort of students will begin the program in January 2023, and Mehra, who serves as the principal investigator, believes the program will further the cohort’s impact in professional settings.

“There is an urgency in the 21st century to dismantle the resistance among archivists to expand the impact and relevance of their work by adopting social justice actions and diversifying the profession,” Mehra said. “Hence, the focus on recruiting and training paraprofessionals who are Black, Indigenous, and people of color with social justice and archival studies skills to further their impact in local and regional settings as well as in the profession and workforce.”

This grant will also support the creation of curricular and mentoring frameworks specifically tailored to the goals and objectives of individuals dedicating themselves to professional practice at the intersection of archives, social justice and advocacy.

“This cohort will be positioned to serve as change agents within their institutions, localities of practice, and the archives and records professions,” said Riter, the Co-PI of the project.

SLIS faculty will collaborate with the Alabama Department of Archives and History, the Alabama Public Library Service, Multnomah County Archives, New Mexico State Library, Society of American Archivists and Special Collections and Archives at the California State University among others through various aspects of grant implementation.

Civic Engagement for Racial Justice in Public Libraries (RJ@PL)

Mehra received a grant entitled “Civic Engagement for Racial Justice in Public Libraries” in collaboration with Dr. Kimberly Black of Chicago State University and multiple state and public libraries. The project’s goal is to study and build the capabilities of public librarians and selected communities to lead civic engagement and promote positive social change by advancing racial justice. Mehra and his colleagues plan to spotlight positive initiatives of civic engagement that libraries in the southern regions are adopting to promote racial justice.

“Racial justice is a hot topic, but this project hopes to break down the stereotypes and barriers that people might have about the topic through the concept of civic engagement. We are asking ourselves how we can engage and interact in discussion and mutual understanding, and how libraries are doing that,” Mehra said.

Mehra and Black will be joined by the Alabama Public Library Service, Athens Regional Library System, Austin Public Library, Birmingham Public Library, Georgia Public Library Service, Howard County Library System, Kentucky Department for Libraries & Archives, Library of Virginia, Louisville Free Public Library, Maryland State Library Agency, Northwestern Library System, Richland Library, Richmond Public Library and Suffolk Public Library and Tennessee State Library and Archives to implement the project.

Libraries Count

SLIS will also join Dr. Alissa Lange, Director of the Center of Excellence in STEM Education and the Early Childhood Education STEM Lab at East Tennessee State University, to create and evaluate an online professional learning program, Libraries Count. Mehra will serve as the co-PI of the project which aims to support library staff to integrate math into programming for young children and their families. The program will first be implemented in Alabama and Tennessee libraries, and will ultimately support children and families living in diverse underserved communities across 10 states. Mehra notes that math skills are essential to students upon entry to kindergarten, and that there is a misconception that students only learn math in the classroom. This project aims to better-prepare librarians to integrate math into lessons with young children and families of diverse backgrounds, and to help these children in becoming more interested in math at a young age.

“Knowledge of math and math skills pre-kindergarten greatly shape young children’s educational journeys and future career paths. This learning emerges way before math is introduced in classrooms within schools because making sense of the world through math is ubiquitous and all-immersive, starting right at birth and developing all the time, everywhere,” Mehra said. “Professional learning and development for librarians could address misconceptions and help librarians to better extend themselves in their reach towards underserved populations for mathematics education.”

Webjunction, an online learning network, will help launch and evaluate the program impacts and publish the final webinars for libraries nationwide to access for free.

The School of Library and Information Studies is a top-ranked program for library, information and book arts education. SLIS aims to develop creative and critical thinkers and leaders for the information world through a supportive teaching and learning environment, collaborative research and community engagement. To learn more, click here.

The Institute of Museum and Library Services is the primary source of federal support for the nation’s libraries and museums. IMLS advances, supports and empowers America’s museums, libraries and related organizations through grant making, research and policy development. IMLS envisions a nation where individuals and communities have access to museums and libraries to learn from and be inspired by the trusted information, ideas and stories they contain about our diverse natural and cultural heritage. To learn more, visit