Academic journal article Reference & User Services Quarterly

Learning about Social Justice through Experiential Learning Abroad

Academic journal article Reference & User Services Quarterly

Learning about Social Justice through Experiential Learning Abroad

Article excerpt

Study abroad opportunities offer students and faculty a new window on their profession. Looking at how library services are offered in other countries can shed new light on practices in US libraries but can also remind us how important libraries are in the lives of our users, something that can be easy to forget as we go about our day-to-day work in a library In this edition of "For Your Enrichment," LIS professor Jenny S. Bossaller and three of her students discuss a study abroad session in South Africa.--Editor

Many LIS programs offer study abroad programs, which offer students an opportunity to learn in a new environment. The contact time inherent in a study abroad program might be especially valuable if students are primarily taking online courses. They offer students a chance to grow--to get to know each other and their professors, to push their personal boundaries, and to learn how to navigate a new country's transportation systems and languages. Studying abroad is often seen as an opportunity for students to see a new country and learn about a new culture in a safe environment, but it can also be used as a window into various problems and inequalities around the world. Taking this approach might prove to be problematic, though, if the problems are presented as those of "the other" rather than as global issues or as those that are relevant to the students' own environment. Study abroad programs should not be only fun; they should engage the students intellectually through readings and class discussions and give them the opportunity to talk to library professionals and scholars.

This paper focuses on a study abroad trip to Cape Town, South Africa, prefaced by the intentions and "big ideas" of two previous trips offered through the School of Information and Learning Technologies (SISLT) at the University of Missouri (MU) to the United Kingdom and Ireland. Please pardon the use of the first-person--this is about personal experiences and beliefs. Please also pardon the lack of detail about some of the social issues mentioned here--the necessary brevity of a column cannot fully explain the "biggest ideas" about what we learned. I (Jenny) put the paper together, but the students share authorship.


"Open to all? The Public Library and Social Exclusion" (2000) presented evidence that libraries, as part of the globalized information society, reproduce social inequalities. (1) The report underscores the importance of libraries' and other cultural institutions' responsiveness to local, community issues. In other words, public librarians need to actively invest in social inclusion and focus on groups that face discrimination and marginalization in an information and communication technologies (ICT)-driven consumer environment. That report was significant in my own development, and it spurred my interest in comparative librarianship.

In the United Kingdom, the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals (CILIP) developed the Libraries Change Lives award, given to libraries to "highlight and reward partnership work that changes lives, brings people together and demonstrates innovation and creativity." (2) In 2011 and 2012, I worked with other SISLT faculty to take students to the United Kingdom to visit the winning libraries and meet the librarians behind the programs. The students earned six hours of credit in two classes: three hours in a comparative librarianship class and three in a course called "Libraries, Literacy, and Social Justice." Going to the award-winning libraries took us to some places that were slightly off the beaten path. For instance, in 2011 I worked with librarians to organize a conference at the Barking Library in East London, where the students presented papers and participated in breakout discussions with local public librarians. We visited the Leeds public library to learn about their partnership with the Autism Support for Families project. …

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