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Cathy Tyler (left), conducted a user-centered student assessment of internet access services with the Goshen, Virginia Branch of the Rockbridge Regional Library.

Making a Difference: Public Library Service-Learning

The Mission

This public library service-learning course has been taught since 2006. The course provides opportunities to students to partner with public libraries and other agencies to develop community-based projects in different local settings. The course was among the first at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville to be granted an “S” designation for course-based service-learning (2014). The instructor provides students opportunities to work continuously with various community agencies to develop information-related projects that are meaningful to them. Students learn to make connections between information theory and practice embedded in the community context.

The Partners

Community partners include local and regional public libraries and other information agencies. University of Tennessee, Knoxville, partners include students and faculty in the School of Information Sciences.

Impact on UT

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UT’s Bharat Mehra with Susan J. Williams, Resource Center/Education Coordinator at the Highlander Research and Education Center. Williams worked with UT students to examine participatory action research training opportunities.

Public library service-learning strengthens the university’s ties with local and regional public libraries and other information agencies by developing a course in which students collaborate with these partners through relevant, community-based information-related projects. Students gain from the study of the development, roles, political environment, governance, organization, fiscal management, services, marketing, and performance evaluations of public libraries in the context of user-centered assessment and service evaluation in a changing, socio-technical environment.

Impact on Community

There is an impact on the community’s public libraries as students work with them to assess and evaluate particular services by systematically gathering and reporting on feedback collected from various service users. Information agencies make positive changes to the way they deliver services in direct response to the suggestions documented by the students. Thus, students and agencies together learn from feedback provided by patrons and customer stakeholders. The UT instructor interacts and communicates with select community agencies to ensure that their needs are met by the course, in addition to ensuring the achievement of student learning outcomes.

Related Story: Student Support for Public Libraries>>


Bharat Mehra


Click on “Student Projects” in the following links to see recent examples of public library information-related services students evaluated in the courses by collecting feedback from users about these services.

Click here to read about more Partnerships that Make a Difference.