Lindsey Walters will graduate this month from the IU School of Informatics and Computing with her Master of Library Science degree, but she has already made a big impact at the Elkhart school where she works as a media specialist. Walters found out in October that she had been awarded a $20K grant by the Elkhart Education Foundation to create a Learning Garden at Mary Beck Elementary School.
Walters remarked on the beauty of the school grounds, but noted nothing had been done in the courtyard space in years, so she pursued a grant to secure the funding. “Our students need more access to hands-on gardening and nature in order to better understand how to raise crops and see where their food comes from. Students and teachers want to build a community garden in the library courtyard in order to take the classroom outside,” Walters wrote in her proposal.
The Learning Garden will have four different zones: a sensory garden, for teaching the life cycle and supporting students recovering from trauma; a butterfly garden, in support of curricula on pollinators and wildlife habitat; a food garden, where students can plant, tend, and harvest their own flowers and food; and a learning zone—an outdoor classroom for activities and experiments.
Walters says they are in the planning stage with the grant; they have met with the landscape architect and are drawing up the plans this winter. In the spring, they will start building and planting, and should have a fully operational garden by the time school starts again in fall 2019.
This is not the first grant the former high school English teacher has received on behalf of her employer. Last year, she was able to garner $2500 for a maker space that is used for monthly family events. The key to all this? Walters is a master of grant writing, according to her peers in the library profession. And it is paying off for her students.
Grant writing serves needs and dreams
Walters says that libraries and schools have had to learn how to market themselves in today’s world. With funding always being an issue in both worlds, it is imperative to find creative ways to get more funding. By writing and receiving grants, schools are able to take learning to the next level with more hands-on learning, field trips, problem/project based learning, and new technology. “The grants we receive make a huge difference in our kids’ lives by exposing them to things they otherwise would never see or experience,” she says.
Elsa Kramer, associate faculty in the IU School of Informatics and Computing at IUPUI, since 2012 has taught the S591 Grant Writing class that Walters took. Kramer says that libraries and other information organizations have long relied on private funding sources and public charities to support projects and programs. “Since the 2006–09 recession, philanthropic funding has been essential for libraries to meet their basic mission as well as to innovate and experiment with new technology. There are so many different types of resources, and the competition for them is so strong, that expert search skills are required.”
In her class, Kramer stresses the importance of quantifying the extent of a problem and finding authoritative data or evidence that supports the project rationale. She believes it is essential to write with the grant maker’s perspective in mind. “It’s easy and fun to identify an organizational need and propose a plan to address it, but the grant writer must also demonstrate how meeting that need will have impact tied to the grant maker’s mission.”
Kramer has an undergraduate degree in writing, to which she added a Library and Information Science (LIS) master’s degree from IUPUI as well as a master’s in public administration. She points out that information science is broadly applicable with meaningful work opportunities in all sectors and subject areas. Graduates are leaders in schools, public and academic libraries, archives, museums, government agencies, and numerous corporate settings.
“As the world has become aware of the value of data and its architecture, access, storage, and security, the importance of the MLIS degree is better understood. Whether graduates work in bricks-and-mortar libraries or in other information settings, as I do, our roles as researchers, data managers, and educators of information users are more visible today and thus more highly valued. An MLIS graduate with funding knowledge will be even more valuable in the job market,” Kramer says.
Numerous other former students have done exactly that, successfully applying their grant writing skills. For example, Vincci Kwong, now head of library web services at IU South Bend, received a Library Services and Technology (LSTA) grant to launch an e-reader checkout program for the IUSB campus. Julie Wendorf, director of the Crown Point Community Library, won a $76K grant to fund a program to reach underserved citizens in her library’s service area. Another soon-to-be LIS graduate, Megan Williams, head of the Greentown Children’s Branch of the Greentown Public Library, just received funding for a project involving iPads and Dash robots for the school-public library hybrid located at Eastern Elementary.
This article is part of an ongoing series about the evolving role of the modern library and information science professional, including archivists, digitization specialists, and data curators, among others. For example, today’s teacher librarian may be tasked with addressing what it means to be a good digital citizen, how to leverage technology to be a global collaborator, how to construct knowledge by exploring real-world problems, and deciding what would be the best tool to share that knowledge with others.