Student-led innovation: Parts 3 and 4

(See parts one and two.)

As a reminder, this mini-series (nowhere near as any by Ken Burns!) arose out of conversations suggesting that if social justice were to be incorporated in my school’s program, it would be at the instigation of students. I thought I would take a look back at our four core courses and brainstorm ways for a social-justice-focused student to infuse her work with that perspective.

Today I’m looking at two of Catholic’s core classes: Information Systems (part three of this series), and Libraries and Information in Society (part four). I’ve combined them in this post because, well, what is there to say, really, about information systems?

Information Systems

Of course, there is what to say about information systems. Information systems is a relatively tech-heavy course. It was my first class in library school, and I had classmates who were definitely on the wary side. If I had been among the wary students, with it being my first class, I might have weeded myself out of the program. In other words, an information systems course needs to acknowledge diverse backgrounds of students in order to promote a broad range of experiences in librarianship.

Information systems also aren’t only what we see and use on the back-end as librarians. The catalog is an information system, after all, and if the catalog isn’t usable, the library isn’t usable. So in designing our information systems, we need to be cognizant of our users and their diverse approaches to technology and literacy.

I’m treating it as more of a throw-away here not because there isn’t a role for social justice in the class, but because the way the class was taught, the back-end technology was the focus, and it seems completely appropriate to me to use this opportunity as a student to dig into and really understand the technology. (When it comes time to write an RFP for an information system for your library, you’ll be glad you have half a clue what is being talked about.) I’m also giving it short shrift because this is likely my penultimate Hack Library School post, and want to leave my last post for something heartwarming and inspirational. So, onward.

Libraries and Information in Society

Well. This class has “society” right in its name so it’s not surprising that I have a lot to say about social justice!

This class was my introduction to Ranganathan. Although some have tried to update his five rules, I see nothing out-of-date about “Every reader her book.” (Even if “book” has to be read expansively.) “Every reader” encourages consideration of who “every” reader is, and the uniqueness of every reader.

Comic titled Ranganathan's Five Laws of the Staff Fridge. Transcript: 1. The staff fridge is for (moderate) use. 2. Every eater his or her food. 3. Every food its eater. 4. Save the time of the eater. Staff person has a thought bubble which says

The spring 2015 syllabus for this class is very different than the spring 2013 syllabus, when I took it, but it is the syllabus I have close at hand as I right, so let’s consider the assignments.

1. Lead class discussion one week. I’m fairly certain the pedagogical purpose for this assignment is to address the professional competency of leadership. Good idea. I wish we’d done that my semester. Anyway, I’d guess that the student assigned to lead discussion each week is constrained by the topic for that week, but I think it would be interesting for the discussion leader to introduce social justice within the framework of whatever the week’s topic is.

2. Luminary presentation. Choose a seminal LIS figure, write an analysis of that person, and deliver a presentation. Wouldn’t it be great to choose someone who has done a great deal in the realm of social justice? Like Sanford Berman or the leaders behind Library Juice Press? What does it mean for someone to be a seminal figure, and are we excluding people from consideration due to unconscious biases?

3. Research paper. “A significant issue confronting the Library and Information Science profession.” Yep, I think there are social justice issues confronting the profession. Digital divide, anyone? Diversity within the profession? Provision of social services for public library patrons?

4. Current trends essay. See research paper topics suggested above.

5. Information center report (group project). Let’s set aside all the issues of requiring “in a group…visit and meet with the head librarian” that make this assignment terrible. A group of like-minded students could arrange a visit to a public law library, or a library in a school with a high poverty level. Or throw their hands up because how is a group of working adults, with different schedules, supposed to find a time to meet with a head librarian at a time that works for everyone in the group and the head librarian. For a long enough meeting that the group can do a 20 minute presentation. But I said I was going to set aside all those issues.

What next?

Those are the four core classes at Catholic. What does your school require of all students? How have you infused social justice into your work? Does your school have social-justice focused classes? (Some do and I’m envious!) Are you going to employ any of these suggestions? I’d love to hear from other social-justice-minded students!

1 reply

  1. In my program at St. Catherine University, social justice is laced through our curriculum. In the introductory course, we’re taught to consider ethics, diversity, and issues of access and intellectual freedom–and these issues are brought up in most of the other courses as well, because they are tied into the learning outcomes of the program. In terms of specific courses, there is an elective offered on Social Justice and Children’s/YA Literature. St Kate’s also has student chapters of ALA and the Progressive Librarian’s Guild that often work hand-in-hand on social justice projects such as prison book drives.Depending on a student’s interests, opportunities to build issues of social justice into their experience are certainly available.


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