New Project-Based Course Teaches Graduate Students to Solve Real-World Problems


Project-based learning is at the core of a new elective offered to graduate students enrolled in the Master of Library and Information Science (MLIS) program at the San José State University (SJSU) School of Information. Working together via online collaboration tools, students will design investigations, collect and analyze data, make products, and present their ideas to solve a real-world information problem for an actual group of people.

Melanie Sellar, the co-executive director of the non-profit organization Librarians Without Borders and instructor for the new course, is excited about the skills graduate students will obtain. “Project-based learning and other experiential opportunities offered by SJSU allow you the opportunity to develop your holistic professional self,” said Sellar. “Working on a project embedded in an authentic community issue is also immensely gratifying and motivating for students,” she added. “You’re working on a real-world issue, for a real community, and presenting real recommendations or products that can benefit that community.”

The LIBR 281 Seminar in Contemporary Issues topic is “Examination of Global Library Issues Using Project-Based Learning.” According to the course description, students taking the seminar will “examine select issues affecting global libraries in under­served communities with an emphasis on a community context of Librarians Without Borders (LWB).” In addition, students will be asked to work in groups to “design and deliver a collaborative project supporting an LWB community need.”

The mission of Librarians Without Borders is “to improve access to information resources regardless of language, geography, or religion, by forming partnerships with community organizations in developing regions.” The non-profit was founded by librarians in 2005, and partners with organizations in developing countries to undertake such projects as building libraries and schools and supporting literacy programs. 

In the online course, students will be able to choose from a variety of projects of the type that Librarians Without Borders tackles regularly. The course description suggests that the contemporary issues students might undertake range from “investigating alternative funding models for libraries,” to “proposing means of supporting local publishing in indigenous languages” and “devising virtual training programs for library staff.

Sellar believes that the experience of taking the seminar and completing a real-world project is extremely valuable for graduate students preparing for the job market. “When you apply for jobs post-MLIS, employers are naturally looking for a resume and skill match—that’s step one—but typically they then look for other attributes that distinguish you from all the other matches,” explained Sellar. After taking the course, “you no longer just appear competent on paper, but you have on-the-ground experiences that demonstrate your values, skill sets, and capabilities.”

The course will be offered in the spring 2015 schedule as a two-unit elective for MLIS students. Registration for spring 2015 opens in November.