As her first year at SILS came to a close in spring 2016, Meggie Lasher was looking forward to the summer and taking over as coordinator of the Community Workshop Series, a long-running volunteer program that provides basic technology and computer classes at local public libraries. Then came the news that CWS had lost its funding, which meant Lasher would not receive a stipend to manage the volunteers or have the expected resources to administer the program.
Lasher could easily – and understandably – have walked away, devoted her time and energy to other projects, but she persevered. “I just kept thinking, ‘Not on my watch’,” she said.
Not only did she keep the program running, but she also strengthened it by creating a digital handbook that both future CWS coordinators and students from other LIS programs could consult. Her leadership and dedication did not go unnoticed. She received the Social Impact Award at the SILS Project Fair in April for her poster titled “Open Hands and Open Minds: Handling Institutional Knowledge in a Volunteer Program.” Also in April, she was inducted into the Frank Porter Graham Graduate and Professional Student Honor Society, which recognizes students who have provided outstanding service to the community. At the SILS Spring Commencement, she received the Outstanding Service to the School Award.
Her partners at the local libraries where CWS conducts workshops were also appreciative. “Meggie has been such a pleasure to work with,” said Amanda Gramley (MSLS ’14), Library Experience Assistant at the Chapel Hill Public Library. “She is passionate about digital literacy and that shines through when she is both teaching the classes and coordinating the program. When CWS lost their funding last year, it was a blow to the library because we didn’t have the capacity to offer these classes permanently ourselves. We are so thankful that Meggie took the lead in bringing CWS back and finding a way to make it sustainable for the future.”
Beginning in the fall of 2017, SILS assumed ownership of CWS, and MSLS student Matthew Johnson was hired as the first coordinator for the program’s new iteration.
Though it certainly took time and effort, Lasher said CWS never felt like work. “It was really a passion project,” she said. “The students are so curious and appreciative. They’re so excited to ask these questions. They ask for homework. They want to know more.”
Lasher said her involvement with CWS compelled her to think more deeply about the digital divide, the library as place, and the complexities of modern technology that she generally took for granted. The experience also helped her become a “fearless” presenter.
“I can talk to anyone about anything for an hour and a half now,” she said. “The workshop also helped me grow as a teacher. I wasn’t just delivering information, but looking for signs of learning, moving away from the sage on the stage model. The students, and the personal experiences they bring, really shape what goes on in a class.”
With instruction becoming a larger facet for jobs in many library settings, volunteering with CWS can help master’s students develop marketable skills, but Lasher emphasized the volunteers she worked with weren’t just looking for resume bullet points.
“I was so impressed with how many other people decided to become involved, who were willing to give up their time and energy for absolutely free,” she said. “The program was truly built on generosity and the desire to contribute to the greater good.”
Since graduating, Lasher has become the First-Year Experience Librarian at the Horry-Georgetown Technical College in South Carolina. In October, she traveled to London for MozFest, Mozilla Firefox’s weekend festival dedicated to the open Internet, where she facilitated a workshop based on her master’s paper research on digital literacy and the digital divide.
Looking into the long-term future this spring, Lasher said her priority was cultivating a career that allowed her to be accessible and interact with people regularly. “As long as I’m working with people who have questions, I’ll be fine,” she said.