SPEC Kit 312: Public Engagement · 11
Research universities have a long tradition of service
to their local communities. Often referred to as the
“third mission” of higher education, “service” has
been defined in many ways over the years, and it is
not uncommon to find multiple and overlapping terms
used to refer to this aspect of the institutional mission,
e.g., “extension,” “outreach,” or “public service.”1 Over
the past decade, it has become more common to see
institutions of higher education refer to this aspect
of their mission as “engagement,” a term embraced
both by the Association of Public and Land-grant
Universities (APLU) and the Carnegie Foundation for
the Advancement of Teaching.2 While often associ-
ated with public universities—especially those with
a land-grant mission—this service tradition is found
in academic institutions of all types and may be seen
as a distinctive characteristic of higher education in
the United States.3
Academic libraries contribute to the campus tra-
dition of service to the community in many ways. A
number of libraries, for example, allow members of
the public to make use of collections through commu-
nity borrower programs and support broader aware-
ness of cultural resources through public programs,
e.g., exhibitions of materials drawn from special col-
lections and archives. Derek Bok, then President of
Harvard University, recognized the role that librar-
ies, like other cultural heritage organizations, play in
building bridges between the campus and the com-
munity by providing such programs.4 Many libraries
also provide an array of services to the community
that transcend the “public access” programs noted by
Bok, e.g., cooperative virtual reference services and
instructional services.5 In many cases, these “pub-
lic service” programs are provided as part of the li-
brary’s overarching service mission in others, they
are provided as an adjunct to campus outreach ef-
forts. “Outreach services” in academic libraries have
been explored in essays such as Tina Schneider’s
“Outreach: Why, How, and Who?: Academic Libraries
and their Involvement in the Community” (2003), but
as valuable and important as these programs are, they
are not what we mean by “public engagement.”6
“Outreach” programs on campus have typically
focused on the provision of access to services and
resources to members of the community. While “the
concept of engagement is still emerging and is not
uniformly understood,” it is typically distinguished
from earlier understandings of “outreach” by its fo-
cus on collaboration between campus and commu-
nity to address common concerns and the mutual
benefit that accrues to partners on both sides as the
result of engagement activities.7 The East St. Louis
Action Research Project at the University of Illinois
at Urbana-Champaign, for example, defines public
engagement as “the application of new and exist-
ing knowledge to address real-world problems and
improve local communities,” while the Office of the
Vice-Chancellor for Public Engagement at the same in-
stitution promotes an environment in which “faculty,
staff, and students collaborate with external audiences
and partners to address the needs and opportunities
of society.”8 Finally, engagement is increasingly seen
as an area of scholarly endeavor, rather than as an
“add-on” to the “real work” of campus faculty, and
promotion and tenure guidelines on many campuses
now recognize the “scholarship of engagement” as a
Executive Summary
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