New MLIS Course Emphasizes the Power of Play in Learning: Students Explore DIY and Maker Movements


In spring 2014, graduate students in the Master of Library and Information Science (MLIS) program at the San José State University (SJSU) School of Library and Information Science (SLIS) were treated to an innovative new course offering with a focus on participation and creativity in libraries as part of the LIBR 287 Seminar in Information Science elective.

The seminar, titled “Production of Knowledge and Content in Libraries,” was the brainchild of Monica Harris, a lecturer at SJSU’s information school and deputy director of the Schaumburg Township Public Library. Harris is noted for, among other things, curating Oak Park Public Library’s Idea Box, a participatory community space in the vestibule of the library, and being named one of Library Journal’s  “Movers and Shakers” of 2010.

“Production of Knowledge and Content in Libraries” was designed to show future information professionals the importance of participatory learning. Harris explained, “Learning from peers and experiences makes the information richer and gives it more intrinsic value. When it comes to creativity, it’s especially important to encourage creative thinking in innovation from all levels of the organization to get the best possible product…When we [also] encourage our patrons to embrace creativity, we have the potential to improve our library organizations as well as the community at large.”

Harris sees enormous potential for libraries to be “a place of engagement, a place for intellectual growth and curiosity.” She added that although she herself has a background in youth services, the course is by no means intended solely for those interested in youth librarianship. Indeed, the students in the spring 2014 semester course were “a great mix of specializations in academic, special, and general public library services,” said Harris.

Over the course of the semester, Harris’ students researched DIY and Maker movements and also learned about innovation styles and the power of play in learning and informal education. MLIS student Brittany Austin said that she especially appreciated how students were asked to “look at other fields outside of LIS to get a handle on changing media behaviors, innovation styles, and trends in education and technology.” Austin added that the content of the course was immediately applicable to her work. “I’m excited to apply what I’ve learned to my job and to future positions. I’ve already incorporated some ideas in displays and presentations at work that strive for more user participation.”

Harris created a course that was itself a participatory experience, since she believes that “the only way to truly engage with new material is by being an active participant.” MLIS student Nicholas Triggs said that he took advantage of the opportunities afforded by the class structure and “created gifs, took a field trip, made a magic wallet, did a case study of a Facebook group, played a video game, and shot videos.” Harris said that “The projects [students] have come up with have been stellar—students made strong strides in creating with high-tech tools like Arduino and also experimented with making mozzarella cheese from scratch. The students in this class were uncommonly curious and dedicated.”

In addition to supporting the ALA-accredited MLIS program’s core competencies, the “Production in Knowledge and Content in Libraries” course “focuses heavily on the importance of innovation and individual leadership within the profession.”  In this way, Harris is able to guide her students toward the goal of the course, which is for students “to combine some theory with some very practical applications they can use for making real change happen in their organizations.”

The “Production of Knowledge and Content in Libraries” course is one of several LIBR 287 seminar topics offered in the MLIS program at the SJSU information school. The seminar topics rotate each semester and new topics are continually added. “Production of Knowledge” is slated to be offered again in spring 2015.