Owing to the scope and pace of change, society has become increasingly knowledge-based so that higher learning and research now act as essential components of cultural, socio-economic and environmentally sustainable development of individuals, communities and nations. In this environment, it is essential that higher learning and knowledge creation involve effective partnerships among academic and non-academic learning institutions and communities to create and apply learning and knowledge with stakeholders that are managing and creating sustainable development initiatives. Growing concern regarding the importance of the contribution that higher education institutions make to society has aroused increasing debate about their relevance and credibility amid escalating social problems. An underlying premise of community engagement is the understanding that not all knowledge and expertise resides in the academy, and that both expertise and great learning opportunities in teaching and scholarship also reside in non-academic settings.
This conference will explore how LIS educators and researchers can develop curricula, programs, and research activities that enable active partnerships with communities and civil society to manage and create change. How can LIS programs increase opportunities for experiential, service oriented, and community engaged student learning? How can we develop further collaboration between LIS programs and their larger communities (local, regional/ state, national, global) for the mutually beneficial exchange of knowledge and resources in a context of partnership and reciprocity?
For graduates of MLIS programs to be socially responsible and engaged in their communities, their education must adequately prepare them for that work. Typically LIS programs have addressed social responsibility and engagement through exposing students to the traditional values and ethics of the field–values that on the surface speak to openness, equality, free expression, and full access to information. But as critical theory has argued for a century or more, the practices of information creation, collection, categorization, instruction and use as enacted in libraries, archives, and museums are not as socially progressive as the values statements imply. Embedded in such practices is the idea of “neutrality”–that librarians and libraries should be objective and impartial as a means to provide equality and access for everyone. However, neutrality is never neutral, and in staking a claim to neutrality in information practice, librarians often unintentionally perpetuate systems of exclusion or oppression (Jensen, 2004). Promoting neutrality in effect promotes indifference, which in turn maintains the dominant power structures in society that are systemically unequal. Thus, there is a potential gap between the values and practices LIS programs teach and the expectation of producing graduates who are socially responsible and fully engaged with their communities.