Esther Grassian: MLS Alumna Accepted to Fulbright Specialists Program Roster

The former UCLA literacy librarian looks forward to sharing her expertise with international colleagues.

After retiring from her job as an information literacy librarian at UCLA’s College Library, Esther Grassian says she never would have guessed she’d continue working in the field through an international academic program.

Grassian graduated with a Master’s in Library Science (MLS) in 1969 from the UCLA Graduate School of Library Service. In addition to working as a librarian, she has taught as an adjunct lecturer since the 1980s for the Information Studies department.

Grassian was recently accepted to the Fulbright Specialists Program Roster, which provides professionals in the United States with opportunities to work on short-term projects abroad. The program, which aims to create connections between U.S. academics and international host institutions, awards grants to qualified recipients in the United States to participate in projects at host institutions for 2-6 weeks.

“I am just thrilled to be accepted,” Grassian said. “I feel very honored.”

Before she is officially considered a specialist, Grassian must accept an invitation from a host institution to work on a project, and the match must then be approved by the Fulbright program.

Roster membership lasts five years, and during that time, professionals are allowed to accept two projects. Because they can only choose two, members may decline projects they are not interested in working on.

“I really enjoy teaching MLIS (Masters of Library & Information Science) students and I’m hoping that an information studies department in another country would want me for that,” Grassian said.

She says she has listed Turkey, Poland, and Israel as countries she’d be most interested in traveling to, but adds that there is no guarantee she’ll receive invitations from them.

“I haven’t been contacted yet, but they’ve said something about South Africa,” Grassian said laughing in amazement. “It’ll be interesting to see what comes of it.”

Grassian said the decision to apply to the program all began with an unexpected trip she took to Belarus in October 2011, a mere four months after she retired from UCLA.

With the support of the U.S. Embassy in Minsk, she was invited to speak at the Belarusian Library Association Conference, where she conducted workshops and spoke to an audience of more than 120 people.Though she had a Russian translator with her most of the time, Grassian said many of the university students in the audience were excited to practice English with her.

“They asked all of their questions in English, it was very impressive,” she said.

Grassian says her experience in Belarus made her realize she was interested in traveling and sharing her knowledge with different communities.

“I really enjoyed it and thought, ‘Maybe I can help people and they’ll benefit from my experiences,’” she said.

Once she returned home, Grassian attended an Information Studies alumni dinner where a professor from the department told her about the Fulbright Specialist Program. The application consisted of four essays, two letters of recommendation, and a curriculum vitae. Although the application process was rigorous, she hopes more people will apply to similar programs to share their expertise.

“You just have to take a chance,” she said. “And since I have the time now that I’ve retired, it sounded like great fun.”

As she waits for her placement, Grassian is staying busy with work at home. She is currently reviewing abstracts for, and preparing to conduct a workshop at, the first European Conference on Information Literacy which will be held in October in Istanbul. She will also be presenting information literacy workshops at the University of San Diego next month as a consultant.

Click here to view Grassian’s website on literacy and critical thinking.