Mapping Student Learning in the Archives

by Erin Passehl-Stoddart

This blog post is drawn from presentations at the 2017 SAA Research Forum[1] and the 2016 European Conference on Information Literacy[2].

I was intrigued by a question posted by Rebecca Goldman on the Academic Archivist blog to kick start this year’s focus on student workers: “How can we center student workers in this conversation and highlight their accomplishments?”[3] I believe there are two different perspectives that can help answer this question, and that incorporating both perspectives provides the maximum impact towards highlighting student learning in the archives.

The first perspective is that of the student worker, a voice that can be difficult to capture. With that in mind, I designed a pilot study around semi-structured interviews with student workers who interacted with archival materials at work. The interviews included open-ended questions about working in academic libraries and self-perceptions of how their work aligned with professional standards and how they will use what they learned after graduation. While I won’t dive deep into that here (it will be published in the Fall/Winter 2018 American Archivist), I will address the second perspective to the question how we can highlight student learning and their accomplishments.

The second perspective that is equally important to capture is that of archivists (and supervisors). As the head of special collections and archives at a land grant university, I often considered how I could better communicate the department’s impact in the library, university, community, and beyond. One aspect of this was to look at student learning taking place on the job. How do archivists usually convey student success and learning while on the job? The first ways that came to mind were written (evaluations, annual reports, development newsletters, etc.) and verbal (in meetings, donor conversations, etc.). I also wanted to acknowledge the value that archivists bring to teaching and enhancing the student worker experience. Many times, archivists articulate this through evaluations and statistics for annual reports, considering questions such as:

  • How does the archives/library provide effective learning opportunities for students?
  • How does student learning align with our professional standards?
  • How does the academic library align with university learning standards and strategic planning/mission?

One way to consider how archivists communicate student learning and highlight their successes is through an exercise that maps student job responsibilities to professional standards and literacies. As part of the exercise, I mapped functions found in student job descriptions to a corresponding standard or literacy learning outcome. For example, student positions that were heavily involved with physical or digital exhibits mapped well to visual literacy standards[4]; students heavily involved with processing or digitizing collections mapped well to the new primary source literacy standards[5]. This exercise can be broad or narrow; I decided to map functions to both the overarching standard and when appropriate a learning outcome found underneath it. This mapping exercise provides supervisors with more cohesive language that exemplifies both the student learning experience and the archivists’ role in teaching students in the workplace. Table 1 below shows common job duties that can be found in many archives departments.

Microsoft Word - Document1
Table 1: Student Position Job Duties Mapped to Professional Literacies and Standards

A second mapping exercise that I found helpful to articulate learning occurring while at work in the archives was to connect student job descriptions and functions to campus learning outcomes[6]. I found this exercise was effective in communicating with internal and external stakeholders and that I was better able to advocate for additional student opportunities. Academic courses taught at colleges/universities typically include specific learning outcomes for the course that align to campus learning outcomes. While not quite the same, one way to communicate student learning while at work in the archives is to utilize the same language. By making similar connections between learning in the classroom to campus learning outcomes, archivists can connect what students are learning at work to the same campus goals and speak the same language as other academic departments (see an example in Table 2 below). By placing student learning into broader competencies outside of professional standards and literacies, this information can be used by archives and library administrators to communicate the impact on student learning for annual statistics, reports, and accreditation reviews.

Microsoft Word - Document1
Table 2: Student Position Description Mapped to Campus Learning Outcomes.

By reframing and aligning activities of student workers to professional standards, literacies, and campus learning outcomes, archivists can highlight student accomplishments and the value of archivists in a teaching role. Mapping student worker functions is one way to help archivists strategically communicate impacts on learning while working in the archives to our stakeholders at all levels, whether the position is paid, volunteer, or intern. The mapping exercise serves as a helpful tool for administrators to advocate for how the archives or library contributes to campus-wide learning outcomes, as well as help improve the student worker experience.

Erin Passehl-Stoddart is the Strategic Projects and Grants Development Librarian at the University of Oregon. She previously was Associate Professor and Head of Special Collections and Archives at the University of Idaho. She holds an MSI with a specialization in archives and records management from the University of Michigan and a BA in history and political science from the University of Wisconsin–Madison. Erin is a past president of Northwest Archivists and served as SAA key contact for Oregon and Idaho.


[1] Passehl-Stoddart, Erin. “Student Employment Matters: Mapping Literacies and Learning Outcomes in Special and Digital Collections.” Poster presentation at the Society of American Archivists Research Forum, Portland, OR, 2017.

[2] Passehl-Stoddart, Erin. “Information Literacy Contributions From Archives and Special Collections.” Presentation at the European Conference on Information Literacy, Prague, Czech Republic, 2016.

[3] Goldman, Rebecca. “Seeking Input: How Should the Section Act Upon a Theme of Student Workers in the Archives?” Academic Archivist, January 24, 2018:

[4] ACRL Visual Literacy Competency Standards for Higher Education. 2011.

[5] SAA-ACRL/RBMS Joint Task Force on the Development of Guidelines for Primary Source Literacy. 2018.

[6] Stoddart, Rick and Beth Hendrix. “Learning at the Reference Desk: A Pilot Project to Align Reference Transactions with University Learning Outcomes.” Journal of Academic Librarianship 43(1), 3-7.

[7] University of Idaho Learning Outcomes. (accessed October 15, 2018).


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