Though the trademarks of the library profession like bridging the digital divide for children and adults, protecting freedom of information and promoting literacy, connect directly to service-learning, many LIS programs do not have a service-learning component. Service-learning programs connect LIS students with schools, libraries and other social service agencies to provide volunteer services to the community. In addition to providing volunteer services, students are able to reflect on and evaluate their experiences and create personal best practices for future employment. Students are usually able to earn school credit through service-learning projects, or can use it as a component of a LIS class. Here is another great explanation of service-learning. Service-learning was an important part of my undergraduate education and in many ways was something that gave me the experience to know I wanted to be a school librarian. Is service-learning something that should be a part of more Library and Information Science program curricula?
The pluses of service-learning for the community are obvious. It supports positive relationships between the school and its community. LIS students provide technology training, literacy programs or other necessary services for neighborhood agencies at no cost. Many organizations depend on volunteer work so service-learning programs encourage the bond between these organizations and dependable volunteers. For those of us in online programs, it gives community based organizations in the places where we live the opportunity to benefit from our skills.
In addition to helping the community, service-learning at its best is mutually beneficial for the participating students. In my experience, service-learning projects usually give more freedom than an internship to create and implement projects of personal interest, in conjunction with the needs of the community organization. Service-learning also creates the opportunity to resume build and gives that all-important prior experience when applying for jobs. Because service-learning projects are not usually as formalized as an internship, it also makes it easier to experiment with different types of librarianship, especially for those of us who haven’t chosen what to specialize in yet. Evaluation and reflection are an important component of service-learning, which helps us develop real-world skills in assessing the impact of a program or service.
The biggest barrier to participating in service-learning programs seems to be time. Just thinking about trying to fit an on-going volunteer position into my already busy day makes me exhausted. With the option of an independent study that could be tailored toward service-learning, or the choice of where to do an internship, is a service-learning program necessary? Have any of your classes had a service-learning component? What was your experience? Is it something you would recommend for others?
In addition, here are some great resources that I found about service-learning in LIS programs and the connection between librarianship and social justice in general: Service Learning Librarian blog, The Social Justice Librarian blog and This Book is Overdue by Marilyn Johnson (especially the chapters titled How to Change the World and To the Ramparts!)