Instructor: Bharat Mehra
Authored by Kelsie Rutherford, Junior in Journalism
The growth and sustainability of our public libraries is a crucial ingredient in the recipe for a strong city. At the University of Tennessee, Dr. Bharat Mehra’s distance education course on public library management and services is a service-learning course designed to strengthen students’ skills, and help improve public libraries all across the nation.
Partnering with a public library in his or her area, each student works with the library staff to identify one or more functions in need of assessment. At the same time, they explore a variety of topics through course content and dialogue related to library management. These include finance, strategic planning, administration, collection development, digital resources, and technology.
“Students get a chance to apply those topics in real life settings in this community-based project that I have orchestrated throughout the semester,” said Dr. Mehra. “So what students learn is application of theoretical aspects, and they see it in practice and they do information-related work with that community agency that they are interacting with.”
Unlike many traditional university classes, Dr. Mehra’s class is a distance education course, meaning it is completely online. This enables students from all over the state and the country to take part in his class, and it gives them the chance to work with a local library in their area.
“We have a virtual classroom where we see each other, we sign in at a particular time, and we talk to each other through microphones and headsets, so its more real online learning,” explains Dr. Mehra. “We get the same level of interaction and engagement taking place in a campus classroom.”
Courses like Dr. Mehra’s are significant on many fronts, helping the students and the community, as well as the university. For the students, service-learning courses such as this one help them acquire valuable skills and competencies before they enter their career fields, making them more confident and marketable. As Dr. Mehra explains, it gives students a chance to “get their feet wet in real life settings.”
“It’s a safe environment where their jobs are not at stake or they are not being put in jeopardy in terms of what outcomes they are going to generate,” says Dr. Mehra. “It’s a way to learn what kind of impact they can have in producing quality work that makes a difference in some people’s lives.”
In addition to student benefits, service-learning courses benefit the community as well. Many of the libraries with whom his students work are limited in resources and staff capacities, along with other infrastructure limitations that may hinder operations. “By having the students work on projects that are meaningful to them, [the libraries] are getting people who are able to do high quality work and produce meaningful products,” Dr. Mehra explains. “I think it’s a win-win situation for all of us.”
Service-learning courses generate positive outcomes for the University as well. Overall, these courses are reported to improve students’ satisfaction with the university, increase student retention, and improve the relationships between the community and the university. In courses like Dr. Mehra’s public library management and services, the students, the university, and the community work together to create solutions that benefit all involved. These courses not only bring academia and the community together, but they also allow students, faculty, and community members to work together on challenging social problems, creating a more prosperous future for all.