Service Learning with Latino Students: Bridging the Gap Between Theory and Practice

Author(s): Patricia Montiel Overall, Ph.D. (University of Arizona)


Library and information science professionals are faced with two major challenges in the twenty first century: rapid changes in demographics (Wunite States Census Bureau, 2000) and increased technological advances. Sadly, growing diverse populations are those who least benefit from technological advances. Although most library and information science (LIS) students are aware of disparities in society, few have experience with diverse groups in society and are aware of issues such as the digital divide, limited access to technology and to linguistically and culturally relevant content beyond students' experiences. Yet the likelihood that LIS graduates will need to understand these issues during their career is great. Efforts to prepare LIS students for these challenges have been undertaken by incorporating courses into LIS related to issues involving diverse populations and their ability to access information. However, the complexity of issues raised in these courses requires more than a theoretical understanding; firsthand experience is often needed.


Service learning (SL) is one example of an instructional method that provides this experience. SL integrates course information into learning experiences beyond the classroom. SL has gained importance in higher education as a means of integrating classroom learning and practice and providing experiences that make connections within communities for knowledge and resource sharing. SL also improves participants' interpersonal skills and social responsibility, two essential attributes of LIS professionals needed to adequately provide service to the communities. Sigmon (1979) explains that service learning is a reciprocal agreement that benefits both sides of a partnership and builds relatinships.



The purpose of this paper is to report on a mixed methods study of service learning with LIS students enrolled in a 15-week LIS course, Equity of Access for Diverse Populations. Enrolled LIS students perform 25-30 hours of SL with librarians at elementary schools with large populations of Latino students.



Students voluntarily consent to participate in the study. Two instruments are used as a pre-and postcourse measures: a reflective questionnaire adapted by Simons and Cleary (2006). and a questionnaire on language and culture developed by the researcher are used. Qualitative data collection techniques are used including observations and semi-structured interviews. Student logs and fieldnotes provide additional information.




Research questions include:

  1. How do SL activities help LIS students develop a better understanding of language and culture of Latino students?
  2. How do perceptions of LIS students change during a semester about equity of access issues?
  3. To what extent does SL enhance an understanding of course content?



This study adds to the body of knowledge about the effectiveness of SL in improving instruction for students, "facilitating cultural and racial understanding", and contributes to information about SL in LIS studies where almost no information exists about the impact of service learning experiences of graduate LIS students.