Paper Title: Integrating Socially-Relevant Projects and Achieving Meaningful Community Outcomes in Required Library and Information Science Courses: From a Service Model to Community Engagement


Authors: Bharat Mehra ([email protected]), School of Information Sciences, University of Tennessee.


Paper Abstract (484 words without references):

American library and information science (LIS) programs and their affiliated institutions recognize a need for adopting more critical (and constructive) approaches to revise traditionally defined outreach/service missions (Osborne, 2004) that are “add-ons” to teaching and research agendas (Fear & Sandman, 1995). Current developments in LIS education call for employing the phrase “community engagement” to accurately represent integration efforts of teaching, research, and service that better captures the community essence of social equity and justice (Gibson, 2006; McCook, 2000), instead of using historically loaded, socio-politically biased words (e.g., outreach/service) symbolizing historical imbalanced power inequities. Community engagement will also extend LIS professionals/practice beyond a traditional conceptualization as solely organizers/disseminators of information to information providers for community action involved in making community-wide social changes (Chatman & Pendleton, 1995).


Efforts incorporating socially-relevant projects in required LIS courses promote community engagement for it allows students to build connections between core LIS competencies/skills and community development outcomes that make a real difference in people’s lives. An important challenge is to identify how educators in LIS programs can re-conceptualize their required courses to integrate teaching of the profession’s core functionalities with community engagement activities that partner students with local agencies to achieve meaningful community outcomes? This paper explores some answers by sharing faculty and LIS student experiences while working on community-identified projects in two graduate-level required LIS courses. The courses discussed in this paper include:


         IS 520 (Information Representation and Organization) (course syllabus at URL: The on-campus course was taught by Mehra during spring 2006 and fall 2005 in the School of Information Sciences at the University of Tennessee. During both the semesters IS 520 students partnered with, the nonprofit community network and regional Web portal that connects people and resources in East Tennessee, to develop their final class projects on community-based academic outreach projects. (See IS 520 students’ work at URL:


         IS 560 (Development and Management of Collections) (course syllabus at URL: The course was developed by Dr. Bill Robinson and Dr. Suzie Allard and inherited by Mehra who taught IS 560 as a synchronous distance education course during spring 2007 in the School of Information Sciences at the University of Tennessee. IS 560 is a required course for students in the school media track. Students built a semester-long partnership with a community-based organization/agency of their choice to create (or extend) a professionally developed collection (See IS 560 students’ collective online portfolio at URL: 


The paper reflects upon significant learning experiences of the students, community members, and faculty, and identifies course goals, assignments, methods, stages in development, and community outcomes achieved in the two courses. Findings suggest positive gains for LIS programs incorporating socially-relevant projects in their required courses. Such educational experiences in community engagement equip future LIS professionals to make stronger connections between theoretical constructs and everyday practice and provide them greater relevance of their pursuits to daily lives of lay people.



  • Chatman, E. A., & Pendleton, V. E. M. (1995). Knowledge Gap, Information Seeking and the Poor. The Reference Librarian, 49/50, 135-145.


  • Fear, F. A., & Sandmann, L. (1995). Unpacking the Service Category: Reconceptualizing University Outreach for the 21st Century. Continuing Higher Education Review, 59(3), 110-122.


  • Gibson, C. (2006). Student Engagement and Information Literacy. Chicago, IL: Association of College & Research Libraries, American Library Association.


  • McCook, de la P. (2000). Reconnecting Library Education and the Mission of Community. Library Journal, 125(14), 164-165.


  • Osborne, R. (Ed.) (2004).  From Outreach to Equity: Innovative Models of Library Policy and Practice.  Chicago: ALA.