Service Learning Librarian

by Maureen Barry

In my first five years as a professional librarian, I discovered that I love teaching despite the fact that this was the prospect that terrified me the most while I was in graduate school. Now, I co-teach a credit-bearing information literacy course in addition to many one-shot instruction sessions. As such, I’ve devoured education and library literature and attended lots of conference presentations to learn more about engaging students through active learning and other practical techniques. While we do use active learning techniques every day in class to generate discussion, it wasn’t until we incorporated service-learning pedagogy that we, as instructors, experienced significant student engagement.

Service-learning, according to the National Service-Learning Clearinghouse, is “a teaching and learning strategy that integrates meaningful community service with instruction and reflection to enrich the learning experience, teach civic responsibility, and strengthen communities.”

In our experience, the service-learning project integrates closely with course content. This gives the students a real-world connection to the information literacy skills they develop. Rather than assigning random topics to research, or asking the students to pick a topic related to their major, our students conduct research for a local nonprofit agency with an information need. For example, this quarter, our students are helping our community partner Project READ, our community partner, find web sites, articles and book chapters about assessing reading skills for K-8 students who work with reading tutors.

Since 2008, I have taught four sections of the service-learning information literacy course, and I’m teaching the fifth section this quarter. I chronicle the current class on my blog, Service Learning Librarian. I am also a librarian-partner for an English Composition/Service-Learning course and a first-year seminar service-learning project. I have successfully convinced two instructors on campus that service-learning research projects would provide a more meaningful introduction to the library early on in the students’ college careers.

You can read more about these projects, the connections between service-learning and information literacy and how other librarians have become involved in service-learning at their institutions on the Service Learning Librarian blog. Whether you’re curious about the course, or you’ve had service-learning experiences yourself, visit the blog to join the conversation.

Works Cited

National Service-Learning Clearinghouse. (n.d.) What is service-learning? Retrieved from