Student Story

Service Learning and WiFi Hotspots

SLIS student Sarah Arena supports faculty research.


Can you tell us about these research projects?

I am currently working on two research projects. The first study is examining ethics in service learning with Assistant Professor Colin Rhinesmith and Meghan Doran, Assistant Director of Service Learning at the Community Engagement Office. We are interviewing community partners who have collaborated with local universities for service-learning projects to learn what they view as respectful and mutually beneficial in these partnerships. We are asking questions related to communication, student preparation, benefits and harms, and power dynamics in order to learn what respectful partnerships look like for community partners and their constituents. One of our goals is to provide recommendations for professors, students, and staff so that they create, participate in, and maintain service-learning projects that take into account community partners’ perspectives and needs throughout the duration of the partnership.

The other project is an evaluation of Boston Public Library’s hotspot lending program, which allows patrons to check out portable internet hotspot devices as part of the library’s circulating collection. We will be running interviews and focus groups with library patrons and employees to understand their experiences using the WiFi hotspots. We are also interested in learning how floating collections contribute to broader digital equity goals, such as by providing internet connection to patrons outside the physical library branches, circulating devices to higher demand neighborhoods, and increasing access to internet-based opportunities.

How did you end up working with Prof. Rhinesmith?

I received a Graduate Student Assistant (GSA) position when I started at SLIS and Colin selected me to work with him on some of his research. When Colin told me about his research, I was excited to work on projects related to equity in libraries and higher education and to to see the impacts of these various programs on the Boston community.

How has your previous experience prepared you for this work?

I served two years with AmeriCorps/AmeriCorps VISTA at a literacy nonprofit where I managed a large number of college students who volunteered as part of their universities’ work-study, service-learning, scholarship, or volunteer programs. This experience helped me approach our service learning research from the community partners’ perspective, including the concerns my colleagues and I had while working with service-learners.

What have you learned about research?

Working on such different projects is showing me the breadth of my research interests. While I have conducted historical research, I didn’t have a background in research with human subjects. Colin has been a great mentor throughout these projects, modeling how to lead a research interview and guiding me through qualitative data coding. I’ve submitted my first IRB proposals, created interview instruments, and transcribed many interviews. There has been a lot to learn about social science research!

Do you hope to do more research in the future?

I’m interested in working in an academic library and I hope to be able to help professors and students with their research. I also think it is important that librarians conduct or contribute research in order to improve their own practice and contribute to the field. Overall, I’m gaining a more well-rounded set of skills with which to support others through these research projects.

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