Human Rights as a Framework for Reflection in Service Learning:
Kathleen de la Peña McCook
“Whereas recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world…”
Universal Declaration of Human Rights
“Reflection” is the most important aspect of the student service learning experience in library settings. Through reflection service learning abides in a larger context as part of librarianship’s broader connection to the public sphere. Reflection allows students to realize ‘
The reflective aspect of service learning placements in librarianship requires three components:
1) A faculty supervisor/mentor who is a reflective being;
2) A placement that is an opportunity for reflection through the work being done and interaction with other workers;
3) The student’s preparation to encounter the service opportunity in a reflective manner and the student’s post-experience assessment of the placement.
Faculty as Reflective Beings
Before faculty can incorporate reflection as an aspect of service learning for students, professors must be reflective beings ourselves. In Oneself as Another the hermeneutic philosopher, Paul Ricoeur, has explained that “The autonomy of the self… [appears] to be tightly bound up with the solicitude for one’s neighbor and with justice for each individual"(18). Or, as Saul Alinksy stated in Reveille for Radicals, “In order to work with people we must first approach them on a basis of common understanding (93).” Faculty who supervise service learning placements will provide successful oversight characterized by a reflective and integrated worldview that values social justice and human rights. These first years of the 21st century have been a difficult period for members of the academy who hold concerns for human rights, intellectual freedom and social justice. Political considerations and conservative forces have discouraged speaking out and dissent. After the tragic events of
Today, the very essence of librarianship is threatened as the academy becomes more and more compromised. As teachers in universities, LIS faculty must understand and debate efforts by authoritarian forces to neutralize free speech within academe. There has been a post 9/11 McCarthyism to remove from the university “all vestiges of dissent and to reconstruct it as an increasingly privatized sphere for reproducing the interests of corporations and the national security state” (Giroux, 2007, 145). At my own place of work– the
Recognition of the increasingly repressive 21st century academic environment is the most important aspect of faculty reflection that can be brought to our work with service learning. Library educators in the
We ought to learn from history that the vitality of institutions of higher learning has been damaged far more by efforts to correct abuses of freedom than by those alleged abuses. We ought to learn from history that education cannot possibly thrive in an atmosphere of state-encouraged suspicion and surveillance.
Those supervising service learning must, above all, be reflective individuals. The definition of reflection in the glossary of the National Service-Learning Clearinghouse is at once applicable to those who supervise service learning experiences as well as those who enroll:
Reflection describes the process of deriving meaning and knowledge from experience and occurs before, during and after a service- learning project. Effective reflection engages both teachers and students in a thoughtful and thought-provoking process that consciously connects learning with experience. It is the use of critical thinking skills to prepare for and learn from service experiences.
Library workers reflected on their role in the 21st century at two historic events in 2006-2007: the Joint Conference of Librarians of Color (JCLC) and the United States Social Forum (USSF). Faculty who participated in these transformative events are prepared to work with students at a level of engagement that transcends traditional classroom experiences. Both events connected librarians to over-arching societal issues and concerns such as war, economic injustice, environmental challenges, poverty, and racism.
The JCLC brought together library workers of all ethnicities to
The US Social Forum, “Another World is Possible” (
Faculty involvement in conferences and forums like the JCLC or the USSF provide the opportunity to interact with thoughtful library workers who embrace values of equality and justice. Faculty who supervise service learning should be judicious and discerning. We hope they will answer affirmatively to the question asked by Lesley Rex of the Wingspread Access, Equity and Social Justice Committee: “Are more faculty becoming engaged and increasing their efforts toward solving broad social problems?”
Service learning is collaboration between the community and the classroom that gives equal priority to student learning and community service. Unlike field work which focuses on skills, the student role is determined by the community’s needs (Lemieux and Allen, 312). Students must be prepared to work with the community at hand. This can be achieved by an understanding of principles of community organizing and involvement and by application of this understanding to the library context (Adams, 203-216; McCook, 2000, 37-43). Librarians’ involvement in community building has been long standing, but is not well articulated at the local level.
Reflection can happen in most contexts if the placement is done in a manner that fosters understanding of overarching socio-economic and political considerations. Careful deliberation on the concept of library as ‘place;’ literacy as an adult education endeavor; homelessness as a product of economic injustice; incarceration as a result of a society that does not nurture people of all classes and colors; and lack of effort to develop cultural competence to serve people of different backgrounds are examples.
Twenty-first century leaders in the American Library Association (ALA) have endeavored to establish the librarian’s role in building and transforming communities. During the presidency of Leslie Burger (2006-2007) the Association adopted an agenda for the 21st century: “Libraries Transform Communities; Communities Transform Libraries.” And in 2007-2008 the presidency of Loriene Roy included initiatives to operationalize the ideas of community transformation through the project ‘Supporting LIS Education through Practice.’ It should be noted for purpose of expanding discussion that the use of community as synonymous with place can be problematic (Leckie and Buschman 13). Libraries as culturally constructed places may succeed in supporting community or not.
To understand how communities can be transformed we can look at The Library as Place by Buschman and Leckie and find different analyses of place that provide means of reflection—the Habermasian influence that allows us to make “normative and democratic claims about libraries as places (15).” Establishment of locations for service learning that provide an opportunity for reflection and community transformation have been discussed by
Cuban and Hayes have reported on students placed in a community literacy agency and described the need for literacy education curricula in LIS education. The connection of the service learning experience to curriculum reform demonstrates a mechanism by which the classroom and the external site re-enforce values. Reflective service learning placements require a setting where co-workers are intellectually knowledgeable about the philosophical and theoretical basis of service provided. Literacy for adults must be viewed as far more than a library challenge and this can only be done through active engagement in the work of the American Association for Adult and Continuing Education (AAACE) and involvement with colleagues imbued with the AAACE vision “that lifelong learning contributes to human fulfillment and positive social change.”
At the University at Buffalo Peterson has written how students engaged in a service learning seminar worked to turn a homeless shelter library into a satellite of the
Ours is a prison nation with over 2 million people incarcerated. Any of the hundreds of local, state or national jails and prisons are sites for service learning through libraries and provision literacy education. Clarke and MacCreaigh demonstrate how a public library model can be used in correction facilities. Amy Mark discusses an internship at the Oshkosh Correctional Institution that she undertook after involvement with the student group at the
In Still Struggling for Equality, a thorough assessment of U.S. librarian initiatives to serve immigrants and minorities from 1876 to the present, Plummer Alston Jones Jr. provides hundreds examples of librarians who have looked to serve marginalized people and developed programs to provide basic information and literacy. The use of Jones’ book in concert with state and national policies and programs that were the framework for the JCLC help students and their faculty supervisors to recognize the variety of opportunities for service learning that will contribute to a world without old structures and tired ideas.
So, there are many opportunities for students to be placed in service learning situations where the work being done transcends a particular library or system and allows the student to address issues that are societal in scope though, perhaps, individual in the here and now. By working with the homeless and reflecting on the factors that create homelessness; by working with people in jail and reflecting on the reasons they have been incarcerated; and by assuming a reflective mode of thinking about these issues we will find that the opportunity to create change is amplified.
Student Preparation and Post-Experience Assessment
Students prepare for service learning beyond the acquisition of the skills and theories of librarianship. They must learn about the placement and the conditions that surround the point of service.
is a reflective act. Writing is a reflective act. Those who choose to study to become librarians come in the main from that group of people for whom reading and writing are important. In spite of society’s aggrandizement of technology with a concomitant undervaluing of traditional skills, these skills—reading, writing—form the essence of reflection. Before reflection on the service learning experience can take place the larger philosophical questions must be addressed; there is a need to step back and have students read broadly to examine the context of service. This includes primary human rights sources such as the Vedas, the Bible, the Qur’an, Analects of Confucius, and the Magna Carta on up to more recent documents like the U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Persons Belonging to National, or Ethnic, Religious and Linguistic Minorities (1992), or the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (2006).1 Reading
See for example, how one local effort connects to the universal. Irene Sweeney’s family literacy project in rural
Students may also find that librarians who have struggled for social justice and human rights provide inspiration and encouragement. The Information for Social Change journal (summer 2007) edited by Lowe an