A Case Methodology of Action Research to Promote Rural Economic Development: Implications for LIS Education

By Mehra, Bharat; Bishop, Bradley Wade et al. | Journal of Education for Library and Information Science, March 2018 | Go to article overview

A Case Methodology of Action Research to Promote Rural Economic Development: Implications for LIS Education


Mehra, Bharat, Bishop, Bradley Wade, Partee, Robert P., II, Journal of Education for Library and Information Science


Introduction

What role can library and information science (LIS) education play in economic development, and how can they support small businesses and rural public libraries while engaging with them in a specific regional community and cultural setting? This article explores answers to these questions by examining an action research project in Tennessee and investigating how LIS educators can extend their teaching and learning practices and social responsibility to the state's small businesses and rural public libraries. Insights are drawn from experiences during a planning grant entitled "The Role of Rural Public Libraries in Small Business Economic Development in the Appalachian Region: A Case Study of Tennessee" (PLSB-TN) that was recently awarded by the Institute of Museum and Library Services' National Leadership Grants for Libraries (Research Category) (October 2014-September 2016) to the School of Information Sciences at the University of Tennessee.1 PLSB-TN served as a pilot case study and test-bed review to develop tactics for the larger Appalachian region and similar rural settings in the future. Drawing upon interconnections between the three traditional pillars of the American academy (namely, teaching, research, and service) to meet the needs of local constituencies in the PLSB-TN represented progressive community engagement efforts in LIS education to justify taxpayers' support of public land-grant universities (Mehra & Robinson, 2009). It also nurtured intersections in these three areas in order to inform, extend, and "feed" each other beyond isolated and "closed-box" categories seen in the past and toward making meaningful community-relevant contributions (Lee, Chancellor, Chu, Rodriguez-Mori, & Roy, 2015).

Potential directions discussed within a research and grant context and applied to teaching and learning include curriculum design, classroom integration of appropriate small-business information content areas based on the needs of small businesses and rural public libraries, and the training of rural library and information professionals to further small-business service delivery and resource development. In the PLSB-TN, such practices can be assimilated into the LIS classroom to assist future rural library and information professionals to engage with the small-business community with the aim of addressing Tennessee's history of poverty and economic despair (Cooper & Terrill, 2009; Fisher & Smith, 2012; Mehra, Black, Singh, & Nolt, 2011; Mehra & Gray, 2014). Experiences in Tennessee can possibly help develop analogous ways for other rural environments confronting grim socio-economic and socio-cultural conditions.

Action research and LIS education

Action research is an under-used and unacknowledged approach in LIS education (Mehra, 2004) and has drawn recent attention within the need for a diversified research methods curriculum (Luo, 2017). As a methodology, action research (or participatory action research) starts from the everyday concerns of underserved populations (Brown & Rodriguez, 2009); it extends the goals of academic scholarship and social science practice to develop meaningful solutions that attempt to change the existing challenging circumstances (Rapaport, 1970). Action research has emerged as a cooperative collaboration between various stakeholders based on jointly agreeable ethical principles communicated and practiced in the enactment of specific activities and processes (Kemmis & McTaggart, 1988). As a tool, action research has been well used in the "doing disciplines" such as education, social work, health care, counseling psychology, community development, and others, where the focus is on outcome-based results to promote progressive change (Stringer, 1999).

Action research, however, has seen limited adoption and use in LIS education (Mehra, Bishop, & Partee, 2016a). This is surprising, since many in our diverse professions take pride in their service-oriented missions, user-centered design, attention to local needs, and application of precision in their work enactment (Maack, 1997; Mehra & Sandusky, 2009), traits that are central to action research (Mehra & Rioux, 2016). …

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