Using a Homeless Shelter as a Library Education Learning Laboratory: Incorporating Service-Learning in a Graduate-Level Information Sources and Services in the Social Sciences Course. (Community Building)

By Peterson, Lorna | Reference & User Services Quarterly, Summer 2003 | Go to article overview
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Using a Homeless Shelter as a Library Education Learning Laboratory: Incorporating Service-Learning in a Graduate-Level Information Sources and Services in the Social Sciences Course. (Community Building)


Peterson, Lorna, Reference & User Services Quarterly


Professional education frequently employs practica and internships to provide students with practical, preprofessional experiences. Another way to blend practice with theory is service-learning--an activity that several library and information science educators incorporate in their teaching. (1) This column provides a description of one service-learning activity performed by University at Buffalo library and information science students as they helped a homeless shelter set up a library for use by the clients and social workers of the agency, Homespace.

Service-Learning

Definition

Service-learning takes theory and the academic rigor of the classroom, applies it to a community need, and works in cooperation with community agencies. Waterman defines service-learning as "an experiential approach to education that involves students in a wide range of activities that are of benefit to others, and uses the experiences generated to advance the curricular goals." (2) Incorporating service into the curriculum has a long tradition in American higher education, where service is one of its distinguishing hallmarks. The Wisconsin Idea, land grant universities, and more recently, legislation such as the National and Community Service Trust Act of 1993, all influence our universities to not behave as ivory towers but to be engaged in American democracy by taking research and knowledge into communities. (3) Certainly there are detractors of service as public service, or service-learning, and we have had them from its inception. Early critics saw this involvement as tainting research and learning. (4) Currently, service-learning remains marginalized in the university and dismissed as misplaced social work. Even though service-learning has an ambiguous status on our campuses, that does not stop some faculty members from using this learning method.

Description of a Service-Learning Project in an LIS Graduate Course

The University at Buffalo Department of Library and Information Studies is proud of the service tradition of librarianship and consistently socializes and educates its students with service-learning projects. LIS 516, Information Sources and Services in the Social Sciences, incorporated two professional-experience, service-learning projects in its coursework, and one is described here. The two projects involved (1) planning a library for a homeless shelter for single-parent families and (2) processing the Ecumenical Task Force papers regarding the toxic chemical landfill at the Love Canal neighborhood in Niagara Falls, New York.

Homespace

Homespace is a community of twelve town_houses that provides transitional housing for single parents with one, two, or three children. Homespace provides on-site support staff and twenty-four-hour security. It was founded by an adult bible study group from one of the oldest African American Episcopal communities in Buffalo, New York, St. Philips Episcopal Church. The shelter is no longer exclusively church-based, but also receives funding from governmental sources. It is on Buffalo's east side, in one of the oldest neighborhoods of the city. Its citizens are predominately African American. The community is approximately twelve miles south of the suburban University at Buffalo campus.

The connection between the university and the shelter was made at a request for proposals held by the Buffalo Coalition for Adolescent Pregnancy Prevention. I was attending with a colleague from the School of Nursing, and after the introductions Thelma Roberts, Executive Director of Homespace, asked if there was any kind of project she thought our students could do for her agency. After she explained her agency, I took her card, made an appointment for a tour and discussion, and saw the opportunity for developing and expanding library services for her clients and employees. Roberts was invited to speak to the class to give them her wish list of library and information science needs, and from there I gave students carte blanche.

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