(Moderator note: This piece was written by Jayne Blodgett, a guest contributor to Service Learning Librarian).
The University of Minnesota, Morris (UMM) is a small, residential liberal arts college located in West Central Minnesota. While the school is part of the University of Minnesota system, each system campus has its own separate Carnegie classification and different mission. UMM is known for its commitment to sustainability and social justice issues. As such, UMM has an Office of Community Engagement (OCE), and a number of faculty have successfully integrated service-learning into their classes.
The first incarnation of this class was designed as a study abroad class to El Salvador. My colleague, Heather James (Marquette University) and I knew we wanted to partner with an NGO in-country. After conducting research and meeting with two organizations in El Salvador, we agreed an NGO based in Chicago working with schools in El Salvador was the best fit. The NGO, Contextos (www.con-textos.org), works in a number of schools around El Salvador training teachers and developing libraries. It was an excellent match for the goals we had for our class. We both thought it was pedagogically important to integrate library and literacy theory with practice, and while there are some problems with service- learning projects in developing countries, specifically avoiding the “white savior” problem, we believed working with Contextos would give our students an amazing experience.
Unfortunately, due to unforeseen circumstances, we were unable to teach the class. However, most of the readings and assignments had been designed, so I adapted the proposal and submitted it as a first-year seminar class without the study abroad component. It was accepted to the slate, and I taught it for the first time during the Fall 2013 semester.
Beyond Shushing: Libraries in the 21st Century
The class was 2 credits, and we met for 50 minutes two times a week. I divided the schedule so we focused on libraries and literacy theory on Tuesdays and the service- learning project on Thursdays. The class explored a number of questions ranging from the importance of libraries and literacy to the social implications of service-learning and volunteerism. Over the course of the summer, I worked with our OCE coordinator, Argie Manolis, to determine which programs would best fit the needs of my class. We came up with four projects: story time at the public library, story time with evening ESL students (k-3), library instruction at Briggs Library (UMM’s library) for adults in the ESL program, or computer literacy sessions with senior citizens. A fifth project, a usage study of Briggs Library (UMM’s library), was not coordinated by the OCE.