Library and information science as a discipline and as a practice is evolving in response to rapid changes in technology, new demands from users, and changing demographics that are reshaping the nature of the digital divide. Interactive technologies make possible new user-centered online library services. Reference services are increasingly moving from information access to value-added services and information/digital media instruction. Similarly, LIS education is moving from the relative intimacy of the face-to-face classroom to blended or completely virtual environments, with a growing interest in practice-based approaches such as service learning.
My research interests span communities of practice (CoP), professional development (PD), blended learning, and blended librarianship. I focus on social and community learning as an increasingly important process when goals to be achieved and tasks to be done require collaboration in an interconnected world of great diversity. The communities of practice framework, although a relatively new construction in the latter part of the 20th century, is based on an age-old model of apprenticeship learning. I believe the CoP framework provides an integrated model and guide for social learning that is applicable to a broad range of contexts - from classrooms, service learning, and professional communities to project management and organizational development.
The key aspects that distinguish the model are four creative tensions that characterize the learning process and two environments – practice and community – that identify the major responsibilities of teachers and students for learning leadership. Because the model encompasses individual learning, social learning, and the creation of knowledge-laden artifacts, it accommodates different learning needs as well as the desire of adult learners for autonomy, authentic problem solving, practice-based learning, and learning from others. For the teacher, it offers a systematic guide for creating a learning environment that supports the development of professional knowledge and skills, including fostering a professional community of practice. The model also provides a means of evaluating the potential of social media and other online tools for learning effectiveness and creating quality learning environments.
The role of the reference librarian continues to evolve with new technologies. In reference interactions and user instruction, the CoP model has the potential to focus the interactions on effective communication and learning beyond the affordances of the technology. As formal education and library services increasingly move online, one form of integrating library services into the curriculum using information and communication technologies is blended librarianship. The term "blended librarian" dates to 2004 (The blended librarian) when Stephen J. Bell and John Shank proposed this definition: "the blended librarian [is] an academic librarian who combines the traditional skill set of librarianship with the information technologist's hardware/software skills, and the instructional or educational designer's ability to apply technology appropriately in the teaching-learning process."
I seek to discover whether a CoP-based approach using social software and low threshold applications is efficacious in designing blended learning environments that ground students in the core concepts, practices, and values of library and information science. My goals are to: (1) develop and refine a CoP model for professional education and information literacy instruction; (2) develop and refine a process and a set of primarily qualitative research tools for investigating the use of online technology for collaborative learning and community building; and (3) collaborate with scholars and practitioners to improve research and practice related to the use of online technologies for collaborative learning.