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Wednesday, February 7 • 8:30am - 10:00am
Session 1.2C - Juried Papers: Teaching through Activism: Service Learning, Community Archives, and Digital Repository Building in MLIS Classrooms.

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MLIS programs place a heightened emphasis on the attainment of best practices often rooted within idealized versions of the future job environment. While laudable for setting noteworthy standards for what the work of an information professional should look like in myriad capacities, students rarely experience direct engagement with these aforementioned best practices unless they take on internships, many of which are unpaid. Only rarely is this complete lack of financial disincentive mitigated with potential credit for a course. Beyond this, when placed within internships (often at larger, university libraries and archives), students face systems of information building, sharing, and organizing set within previous administrative standards, left to accede the practices of the institution in which they are an intern. Such spaces rarely foster ideal best practices and, further, they hesitate to give student interns the space to try new and innovative practices. Simply, traditional cultural institutions retain proprietary practices, which are unique to the respective institution and students find themselves learning to do things in a singular way that proves to have little to no replicable value outside of the specific internship. The expected skills of digital repository building, digital asset management, and robust documentation creation remain out of the tangible skill set of the recently graduate MLIS student under the current approach. Rarely in a current system are notions of best practices complicated. Rarer still are frank discussions concerning how situational, contradictory, and objective such best practices remain within various sites.Community archives face the same challenges. Dealing with understaffing, both outdated proprietary technology, and self-taught archival skills such spaces approach digital presence challenges through scalable alternatives. This ‘by-any-means-necessary’ approach remains contentious within historically acceptable archival traditions, become lesser archives by way of their inability to achieve archival standards. Thus, community archives remain spaces deemed non-valid within archival standardization and thus remain undesirable sites of learning for students who desperately seek out space to build practical job skills alongside their degrees. More directly, students want a chance to apply their in-class theories of information science in new and radical ways and community archives desire methods with which to grow their collections digitally. A space to explore new ways of understanding and building digital archives stands at this intersection and the manner in which the MLIS classroom can serve such encounters remains critically underexplored.
As such, this paper focuses on an ongoing exploration of using a Service Learning course at the University of South Carolina’s School of Library and Information Sciences to build a digital repository for a burgeoning community archive. Currently know as Archiving South Carolina Women, the project aims to account for and make available digitally a history of the work of women’s activism in South Carolina and, more broadly, The United States. Through reimagining a class that traditionally focused on design and management of digital images that worked exclusively through establishing theories for digital asset management this undertaking imagined how such a course might look from a service learning angle. Service learning, in its structure, focuses on allowing students to learn through praxis, with the classroom becoming a space where students are paired with community partners to help deal with  respective critical need, while, learning skills in the process. Programs commonly built with service learning components tend to b those with clear ties to community engagement such as: public health, social work, and international studies. Since many students desire to work in public information work, the service learning emphasis also invites LIS programs a chance to illuminate the often underappreciated role of community service within the field at large. Accordingly, the aforementioned Archiving South Carolina Women initiative was a community archive in desperate need of digital expansion and we possessed students within a course hungry for hands on skills, thus the connection was incredibly easy to facilitate.  In no small way, this service learning approach offered an opening for a new way to think about how LIS programs can aid community archives in a reciprocal manner.
This paper highlights the experiences from this course, from the initial planning through the implementation, highlighting both the successes and failures of the project. Grounded within an understanding of best practices based training, the paper looks at how we, along with the students, redefined best practices, and moved towards building a repository from scratch, which was scalable, easily operable, and transferrable not only to the community partner (Archiving South Carolina Women) but to future students and volunteers as well. The paper also considers the qualitative experiences of the students, noting their responses to this course in contrast to their other graduate course work. We also look at the technological side of the project, noting how the long term operability of the project, meant focusing on more open source approaches to repository building, which resulted in critical, and necessary, discussions about all levels of practice within cultural institutions. Topics of debate within the course and paper include: ethics of cataloging standards, digital preservation standards, copyright, workflow management, and project documentation. Both the students and ourselves found the initial topics to be deceptively easy, only to discover that each was riddled with nuance and complexity, especially when issues of funding and labor emerged. These challenges were amplified further by the express feminist nature of the project. The community partner’s leader made her ideas of what the collection should represent clear from the onset and the resulting product had to adhere to such philosophies, meaning that the students were also learning about a historically underrepresented group of people within South Carolina (and digital repositories) by working with activist women in Columbia, South Carolina.  In the end, as our paper shows, students moved towards an approach to repository building that was transparent, while advocated for the highest degree of beneficence possible, which expanded to include not only their community partner, but their classmates, the collection, and the collection’s users as well.

Wednesday February 7, 2018 8:30am - 10:00am
Meadowbrook I

Attendees (12)