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Libraries as community partners in the service-learning relationship

Posted on Thursday, May 26th, 2011

How could libraries become the community partner in a service-learning partnership? What kinds of projects could service-learners do WITH libraries? This is one of the questions that was discussed at the roundtable discussion about service-learning at the ACRL (Assoc. of College & Research Libraries) annual conference. One of the Research Academy attendees I met last week (who works in her institution's equivalent of the Office of Service-Learning) told me she had just approached the library director at her institution to explore opportunities for the library to become involved in service-learning partnerships - as the community partner or "recipient" of service-learning. I hate to use that word - recipient, since there should be an emphasis on service "with" the community instead of service "to" the community. This partnership hasn't been solidified yet, so she wished to remain anonymous at this point. The library director suggested that student service-learners could host community workshops focusing on accessing library materials online and searching databases. Similarly, the local public library has also approached their office to inquire about the possibility of the university students teaching community members the basics of how to use computers and the internet. A few other examples of the library as community partner in the service-learning relationship are outlined in the following articles: Heiselt, A. K., & Wolverton, R. E. (2009). Libraries: Partners in linking college students and their communities through service learning. Reference & User Services Quarterly, 49(1), 83-90. This is a case study that describes how service-learners at Mississippi State University partnered with a local public library to promote their resources to young people in the community. Meyer, N. J., & Miller, I. R. (2008). The library as service-learning partner: A win-win collaboration with students and faculty. College & Undergraduate Libraries, 15(4), 399-413. doi:10.1080/10691310802554879 In this case study, the authors describe a partnership between the library and technical communication faculty & students. The students learned how to use RefWorks (a bibliographic management tool), and then taught RefWorks workshops for their peers. Some related questions:

  • What other ways could libraries benefit from being the community partner in a service-learning relationship?

Some concerns:

  • Librarians might have concerns about the extra "load" of supervising service-learners and/or volunteers, just as most small non-profit staff would


  • Librarians as partners in any service-learning partnership, whether they are in the role of teacher, librarian-partner or community partner can bolster the library's relevance in the institution and the community.

Surely this has sparked some ideas - what ideas do you have?