Enriching the Conversation: Employing Communities of Practice in Teacher-Librarian Professional Development

Author(s): Eric Meyers, Deborah Turner, Matthew Saxton  and Lorraine Bruce (Washington)


The engagement of researchers with communities, including communities of practice, is important in ensuring that research which is relevant is conducted and that the results are communicated and made useful beyond the research community. However, the integration of research, learning and practice is complicated by a number of factors. The research about research indicates both an apprehension about the value and applicability of research and a sense of intimidation with research, both among librarians and members of the general public. Among information professionals, there are concerns regarding the lack of academic preparation for them to conduct research and, to a large extent, to be consumers of research.


Service learning represents a model of education that is intended to make the learning process particularly relevant to future practitioners and provides the opportunity to integrate the conduct of research and learning with practice. Known by several names, action techniques in educating librarians to serve and affect communities have been a hallmark of North American LIS education. This presentation will address the role of service learning in integrating research, learning and practice and present research results based on the study of a model service learning program.


The presentation will provide an overview of the research on the history and development of LIS service learning from the outreach programs with immigrants, to the 1940s-50s adult learning models, the “Barber Shop, Beauty Salon, and Bars” programs of the 60s, up to and including the community engagement activities occurring in LIS programs at present. Specifically, the presentation will address the history of outreach and service learning in LIS, identify the evaluation techniques available from the Service Learning Network; and, consider the liability issues, controversies associated with the service learning approach as part of a “liberal agenda,” and the other bases for resistance to service learning in the academy.


The service learning model has enhanced individuals’ learning processes. It has also inspired the development of a more complex learning model—one that also facilitates learning for the organization and even for the profession.


With funding from the Institute for Museum and Library Services, the Urban Libraries Council (ULC) implemented Librarians for America’s Neighborhoods—a recruitment and education program, aimed at increasing and diversifying the pool of eligible public librarians. The program provided funding for participant scholars’ tuition for an MLIS program as well as their concurrent work and service learning experiences in participating urban public libraries. The ULC created and coordinated an active community of practice of scholars and public library staff members. The project was also designed as a laboratory, providing the basis for data gathering related to online and in-person communication and information sharing. This complex model of community engagement allowed for data gathering and fostered learning related to the communities served by the urban public libraries, the libraries themselves, regional agencies, and other stakeholders involved with members of the community of practice. Findings will be presented, including results related to the extent to which the model facilitated success in recruitment and other areas.