MLIS Students Investigate Library Issues Faced by Two Guatemalan Communities


Graduate students enrolled in one of the newest electives offered in the iSchool’s Master of Library and Information Science program took their newfound problem-solving skills to Guatemala to address real-world issues.

Graduate students enrolled in one of the newest electives offered in the Master of Library and Information Science (MLIS) program at the San José State University (SJSU) School of Information took their newfound problem-solving skills to Guatemala to address real-world issues.

The new elective titled “Examination of Global Library Issues Using Project-Based Learning” was offered for the first time in spring 2015. Students worked on two Librarians Without Borders (LWB) current projects that promote literacy and learning with partner Miguel Angel Asturias Academy (Asturias) in Xela, Guatemala, and partner Limitless Horizons Ixil (LHI) in Chajul, Guatemala.

“These projects were derived from authentic community needs and the final deliverables were solutions that the students researched, evaluated, and proposed to help the community tackle a particular issue,” explained Melanie Sellar, lecturer at the SJSU School of Information and founder and co-executive director of LWB. “Although the issues that they investigated—early literacy programming, after-school programming, community library expansion, and digital training programs—were specific to two Guatemalan communities, they bear universality with library issues and needs around the world.”

Sellar required students to conduct significant research across a variety of disciplines to inform their analyses of the problems faced by the library programs in Chajul and Xela. “Although my team was focused on afterschool programs and aligning library programs with curriculum, very important elements emerged that are applicable to all kinds of library situations,” said Rebecca Perkins, an MLIS student from Santa Barbara, California. Among the elements noted by Perkins was “the importance of providing service model details and best practice examples in a library project proposal.”

Perkins also believes that working on projects for linguistically and culturally diverse populations was extremely valuable. “This course made me think about how to encourage and point out the positive aspects of culturally diverse populations rather than point out deficiencies,” she said.  “For example, a group may not speak or be literate in the dominate language of a country but that does not make them illiterate or uneducated. As a soon-to-be librarian in a culturally diverse population of America, it is important to keep this in mind and encourage emergent bilinguals rather than push English-only materials and programs.”

Jonathan Bell, another MLIS student who took Sellar’s course, also valued his experience working on a project that empowers marginalized members of a community. “Our community library space team developed and proposed the concept of a ‘Loud Library’ for Asturias Academy in [Xela],” explained Bell. “The Loud Library is a community-based library that operates to erase a culture of silence among a marginalized population through information, education, and literacy. We believe this library concept has traction and can improve the lives of Guatemala’s indigenous population.”

According to Sellar, the project-based learning model of the course was an enriching one not only for the students, but for her as well. “The students brought diverse skillsets, perspectives and life experiences to the course and helped me think more deeply and differently about the community issues,” said Sellar. “As a representative of LWB, I also sincerely appreciated the contributions students made into our thinking about these projects.”

The collaborative nature of the iSchool course was an important part of the learning experience as well. “I immensely enjoyed getting to know the students through my participation in their team meetings, their participation in course discussion and individual blog posts, and our ongoing dialog as they drafted their ideas,” affirmed Sellar. “I feel that we had a vibrant learning community.”

Sellar will be teaching another elective in fall 2015 on the topic of international and comparative librarianship. More information about the MLIS curriculum is available on the courses web page.

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