The Traveling Rare Bible Petting Zoo: a One-Shot Instruction Experience

By Carrie Phillips 

In a perfect world, archivists aspire to partnerships with instructors to promote archival literacy and the beautiful practices of usage with our collections. We strive for best practices, and we dream of measurable outcomes and assessment goals. Even so, there are days when the phone rings, and we’re asked for a “novelty act” – a one-shot instruction interaction, one-off tours, and the dreaded “show and tell.” How should we respond? Rather than relish in disappointment, how can we leverage this experience toward our aspirational pedagogical goals?

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Title page of one of the Bibles held by Bluffton’s Special Collections. Image courtesy Carrie Phillips.

For me, one such opportunity surfaced during fall semester 2016 when I was approached by the faculty member teaching two large sections of an Introduction to Biblical Worldview course. This was a required, general education course taken by all Bluffton University students, and all class levels were represented in the class population. She explained that the course examined the Bible through four lenses: biblical studies, ethics, theology, and spirituality. However, the course did not explicitly include content addressing the Bible as an artifact. She wondered, could I create a lesson that would fill this particular curricular gap using Bibles from our Special Collections… AND could I do it on a day when she would be away at a conference and needed a guest speaker.

At first, I briefly hesitated. The instructor had suggested a demonstration approach – the ol’ “show-and-tell” – and I had reservations about that. If I would glovedly remove from the custom-made storage box the giant, centuries-old, folio-size Bible, printed in a language students couldn’t read, show it to them on a table but make them stand back and crane their collective necks to see it, and then put it away after five or ten minutes of me talking at them about it, what significant amount of discovery would really occur?  But if I would turn them loose for 50 minutes to explore freely and turn the pages of a seventeenth century book while the sophomore over here finishes his oatmeal that he brought from the dining hall, then there’s no reverence involved. I wanted to create a guided, carefully prepped and framed experience with just the right amount of fear-mongering and awe-inspiring lead-up to make for a memorable learning experience for all involved. I saw an opportunity to interface with the general education curriculum in a way I’d not yet attempted, and the prospect was compelling. So we met for coffee, like good collaborating scholars should, to review more details and see what could be done.

Teaching with rare materials is admittedly scary. So I asked my communities of practice for their wisdom. I queried colleagues from the Ohio Preservation Council, a group of conservators, preservation librarians, special collections curators, and archivists from across Ohio. I checked in with my parallel counterparts from Bluffton’s sister Mennonite institutions.  I examined my collection – what raw materials did I have to work with?  How was this going to happen in a tiered lecture hall with shallow tabletops? What did I need to bring with me to make this run smoothly? And how could I leverage methods like group work and guided examination and classroom technology?

After considering feedback from a number of colleagues, I chose folio- and quarto- sized Bibles of stable condition which also represented a wide publishing timespan. Since an alternate space was not an option, I considered how best to utilize the tiered classroom space to arrange small groups of students around each Bible. I anticipated needs and props, like pencils, a worksheet to guide the exploration, cradle cushions, and visual aids – bringing everything along so we could isolate the students’ belongings away from the Bibles. I scripted my remarks, and devoted space in the introduction to explicitly emphasize care and handling, demonstrating those techniques (and even so, my colleagues warned me that I should expect some wear). I felt I was aware of potential risks I couldn’t eliminate, and the benefits continued to outweigh those risks. Everything for this roadshow lesson was loaded onto my largest flatbed cart, and I ventured off with the Traveling Rare Bible Petting Zoo to the academic center, where the course met.

To break the ice, of sorts, I’ve employed two different introductory activities to the session. Option A involved asking the students to watch three short, relevant YouTube videos prior to class and using a Kahoot quiz to assess their understanding of those videos. Option B steered the class into a discussion of how a Bible is recognizable by methods other than having the letters BIBLE on the cover, followed by watching a short YouTube video which showed the process of printing and binding a book using methods similar to what created the Bibles the students would examine.

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Students engage with their assigned Bible in the classroom. Image courtesy Carrie Phillips.

Then I provided a very deliberate care and handling demonstration, showing exactly how the book should be handled for the activity we were about to begin. Students removed all of their belongings from the desktops to their bags or the floor, excused themselves (if necessary) to wash their hands with soap and water in the restroom, and then formed small groups. Pencils, a worksheet, and a Bible were distributed to each group. Students were encouraged to document interesting features using their smartphone cameras, and some shared those images on Instagram, tagging @blufftonuarchives in their posts so that I could see and comment.

Students began their guided examination by looking at the outside of their Bible.  The worksheet offered a checklist of possible materials used (or not) in the construction of the Bible (e.g. paper, plastic, wood, leather, brass, etc.). Students were asked to note any interesting decorative features of the cover boards or spine. Before moving to Part 2, students were asked to make a guess as to the Bible’s age.

Using the handling techniques I demonstrated at the start, students next located the Bible’s title page. Their task here was to discern when and where the Bible was printed. I hadn’t anticipated that students would struggle to read Roman numerals! Students were also asked to make note of any interesting or surprising findings along the way to the title page – handwritten notes, bookplates, and the like. They were eager to report damage they observed, which sometimes led to interesting tangent discussions.

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A worksheet utilized in class provides visual cues related to the session. Image courtesy Carrie Phillips.

Perhaps in homage to all the standardized tests I’ve ever taken, I placed a large red stop sign graphic at the bottom of the worksheet’s front page. A note there reminded the students to catch my attention so that I could come to their workspace and open their Bible for them. The Bibles were supported with homemade stuffed sock tubes – easy to transport, and sized to help cradle the Bibles to protect their spines and joints.

Once the Bibles were opened, students were encouraged to explore the contents using proper handling techniques. Students were asked to guess the language of their Bible, and to make note of any interesting illustrations. We discussed how there are parts of a Bible which may be recognizable to them even if they’re not able to read the language present. Some students discovered clippings or pressed plants and flowers between the pages. All were encouraged to note at least one interesting, surprising, or confusing feature to share with the class.

For the final 10-15 minutes of the class period, I displayed slides of each Bible, and asked the groups to share the printing date, printing place, and their chosen feature for their Bible when it appeared on the screen – so that all in the class could see all of the Bibles. I provided an additional piece of trivia for each Bible.

I’ve repeated the experience each semester since, including for students in our Adult Degree Completion program and in our Honors program. Because of the course size, all but two Honors program course students could work alone with a Bible. The level of curiosity expressed by this particular group of students was really surprising, and this time, the instructor was able to be present, which added a lovely layer of subject-matter expertise to what I could offer.

Heidi Buchanan and Beth McDonough, in their essay, “Right on Time: Best Practice in One-Shot Instruction,” note that, “not only is one-shot instruction what academic communities expect from libraries, but it can be highly effective – nimble, purposeful, integrated across the curriculum, and focused on relationships with teaching faculty and students” (85).

Ellen Swain, in her essay, “Best Practices for Teaching with Primary Sources,” suggests that, “The critical component to a successful instruction program is understanding the goals and objectives for the teaching faculty.” Swain continues by suggesting that, “the most successful collaborations are those in which the instructor has buy-in and will work with the students and the archivist to understand and use primary sources in creative ways” (200). While this strikes me as having been intended for a proactive pursuit of classroom connections between curriculum and archival materials or special collections, Swain’s ideas are also useful when planning the “reactive” response to a request for a one-shot instruction session, such as the one I’ve described.

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Students work in a small group to examine a Bible. Image courtesy Carrie Phillips.

As I reflected on my experiences with this one-shot teaching opportunity using rare books, I culled a list of surprises, adjustments, and successes. The students surprised me with their higher-than-expected levels of engagement and curiosity. They listened and observed attentively my care and handling demonstration, with the exception, surprisingly, of the adult students, who found their pencils to be useful pointing tools – something I had not anticipated and have accounted for since. Classroom management was sometimes difficult; there was only one of me to work the room, opening Bibles when students were ready, and answering questions. This left a fair amount of downtime during which students had to wait patiently, and in larger groups, these students simply tuned out. In the most recent iterations of the course, the instructor was present, and her presence turned out to be more helpful than I anticipated. Lastly, I was relieved and encouraged to see that the wear-and-tear sacrifice of the experience was minimal; I found very few bits of old Bible left behind on the desktops after students finished handling. I remain very conscious of the need to monitor this particular concern, and I have a plan to rotate additional Bibles into the mix to help avoid extensive damage.

To date, I’ve offered the Petting Zoo on eight different occasions, and each instance offers a chance for my remarks, timing, and worksheet to be retooled and honed. The reward is great – students react positively on formal and informal course evaluations – and instructors are beyond pleased. I look forward to bringing the Petting Zoo to Bluffton students in the future – the instructors and I are already planning for Fall 2018!


Carrie Phillips is completing her thirteenth year as archives and special collections librarian for Bluffton University in northwest Ohio. She oversees Bluffton’s diverse special collections, which are grounded in the institution’s Anabaptist – Mennonite tradition, and she enjoys the challenge of developing innovative instruction opportunities with those collections for audiences ranging from first graders to the adult learner. She is the current chair-elect of the Ohio Preservation Council, and some of her favorite days at work are spent at her workbench, protecting and preserving the traces of history in her care. Carrie earned an MLIS from the University of Washington in 2006 and has a bachelor of arts degree from Bluffton University.

 

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Developing and Maintaining a Student Assistant Program at Northern Michigan University

By Marcus C. Robyns, CA

I became the archivist of the Central Upper Peninsula and Northern Michigan University (NMU) Archives 21 years ago on March 1, 1997. On that fateful morning, ice blocks, towering snow drifts, and frigid temperatures greeted me as I made my way through campus toward the archives. Looking back now, I can see how the classic Upper Peninsula winter setting provided a fitting context and metaphor, since I had inherited an archival program in suspended animation much like the long dead mastodon found frozen in ice.

My predecessor had been gone for nearly a year by the time I arrived. She had fled leaving me with a records management program on life support and a nascent regional historical collection. I was expected to manage and expand both responsibilities without any hope of additional professional staff support. At the same time, I was also a tenure track assistant professor, with all the obligatory service and scholarship demands. Young and naively confident, I brushed aside any worries and brashly galloped off into the fray only to quickly crash into the painful boulder of reality. By the end of my first year, I was an exhausted, broken, and angry lone arranger perched atop a teetering mount, wallowing in self-pity, and nearly in tears. I can vividly remember sitting at a reading room table feeling sorry for myself and wondering if I had made a terrible mistake. At that moment, I looked up through the window into the adjacent hallway and saw scores of students rushing back and forth between classes. For the first time in my life, I suddenly experienced the closest thing to a “religious epiphany.” With a jolt, it dawned on me, “you idiot. There’s the solution to your problem.”

The solution was to hire more student assistants and train them to work as paraprofessionals capable of completing all the basic archival management tasks, such as arrangement and description, reference and reading room assistance, and public outreach programming. To be honest, I wasn’t quite yet thinking of student assistants as paraprofessionals in those early days. That thought came much later after I had read a definition of the term and realized it fit my creation. In essence, a paraprofessional is defined as a trained aid who assists a professional person. The aid is not licensed or credentialed through professional training or a college / university degree.

My idea to use student assistants as paraprofessionals was not unique. In 1992, Barbara L. Floyd and Richard W. Oram conducted a study on the use of undergraduate students in college and university archives.[1] They surveyed 132 archives and found that 72 percent used student assistants extensively in multiple archival tasks with varying degrees of complexity, and 37.3 percent stated that student assistants performed “professional tasks.” Given the demanding nature of archival work, Floyd and Oram made a number of recommendations designed to facilitate recruitment and retention of high quality student assistants. They urged archivists to write position descriptions that reflected graduated levels of specialization and higher levels of pay. They also encouraged archivists to develop appropriate training manuals and commit themselves to intensive training of student assistants. Short of actually using the term, Floyd’s and Oram’s report confirmed that many university and college archival programs were using undergraduate student assistants as paraprofessionals.

At the time of my “epiphany” twenty years ago, I had two student assistants working a few hours each week doing little more than answering the phone, monitoring the reading room, and re-shelving boxes. Today, seven undergraduates work in the NMU Archives on a variety of specialized tasks. They work 10-20 hours per week and are paid according to a wage scale described by each position classification. Each student assistant starts at the entry-level Archives Student Assistant I. Following successful completion of their first year, they are promoted to Archives Student Assistant II. The archives normally hosts 1-2 student interns completing a field experience requirement of the Department of History’s Public History minor. These interns work only one semester and are focused on very specific, “small” projects, such as processing a collection of letters or developing an online exhibit. Currently, the archives has two volunteers; one is the library’s retired cataloger and the other is an expert in genealogical research.

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Number One, Stefan Nelson, at his desk. Stefan is a senior majoring in Wildlife Management. Image courtesy Marcus Robyns.

The key to the archives’ student assistant program is the position of senior student assistant (student assistant III), known affectionately as Number One. Number Ones generally work 15-20 hours per week. Candidates for the position must demonstrate a proven record of exceptional maturity, responsibility, professional deportment, interpersonal relationship skills, and the ability to manage increasingly complex tasks. The candidate is normally a veteran staff member, having served at least two years as a student assistant I and II. Number One is the “lead” student assistant and is primarily responsible for basic office management and the recruitment and training of new student assistants. Number One also assists the archivist in supervision and performance evaluations. They also chair the archives’ biweekly staff meetings, including the preparation of agendas and minutes. Most Number Ones serve for one to two years until they graduate.

I do not hire archives student assistants. They hire themselves in a process modeled after professional staff recruitment and hiring at NMU. Generally, the archives hires one or two new student assistants at the beginning of each academic year, depending upon how many graduated or left service the previous spring. Number One forms a “Search Committee,” comprised of Number One as chair and usually two other student assistants. The search committee writes the position announcements (based on the position descriptions), conducts publicity, manages the incoming applications, and conducts interviews. Number One submits to me a written recommendation ranking the applicants. Unless I see something glaringly wrong, I generally “rubber stamp” the search committee’s recommendation.

The search committee makes every effort to recruit a diverse workforce but struggles because of the small number of students of color at NMU. For example, NMU currently has only 150 students identified as African-American, barely 2 percent of the undergraduate population. Regardless, the current staff does include one African-American student assistant, Kyleigh Sapp, who recently gave an outstanding Evening at the Archives presentation on the history of black student protest on campus for Black History Month.

Once hired, new student assistants begin a six month “probationary period.” Number One conducts basic training in reading room procedures and file management. I introduce and train the new assistants in basic reference, accessioning, and arrangement and description work. The training includes an initial presentation, selected readings, one-on-one guidance, and practical exercises that culminate in a final project.

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Lydia Henning working on book mending project. Lydia is a senior majoring in Spanish with a minor in Art and Design. Lydia is also responsible for maintain the Archives’ web site, designing online exhibitions, educational outreach publicity flyers. Image courtesy Marcus Robyns.

During new student assistant training, I develop a better understanding of each student’s personal and professional goals and abilities. This knowledge helps me identify the area of archival work best suited to them. I assign each student assistant a “specialization” in accessioning, arrangement and description, reference/reading room, or digitization and web site design. Each student assistant receives a formal title, such as arrangement and description specialist, reference and reading room coordinator, or digitization specialist. These titles look much more impressive on a resume than the simple and colorless, “Archives Student Assistant.” Number One adds each student assistant’s picture, title, and a very brief biographical statement to the staff page on the Archives web site.

As paraprofessionals, the student assistants are fully integrated into the management and operations of the archives. Aside from their area of specialization, each student assistant participates in bi-weekly staff meetings, where they report on the progress of their assignments and contribute to decisions on policies and procedures. Student assistants also participate in public outreach by contributing to social media posts, writing blog posts (The Northern Tradition), creating online exhibitions, and giving public presentations. If a student assistant has an idea for improving a policy or procedure, nine times out of ten I will try the idea. Sometimes the idea fails, but we always review what went wrong and try to learn from the experience.

NMU Archives student assistants receive a formal, in-person and written evaluation at the end of each semester. If serious difficulties develop, I may call for a mid-semester evaluation or initiate the established Disciplinary Actions Procedure. At the end of each semester, each student assistant has the opportunity to submit to Number One a confidential written evaluation of myself. They may also submit to me a confidential written evaluation of Number One. Number One and I review my evaluations, and Number One responds with an email summarizing how I will do my best to address any problems. I want the student assistants to know that I have honestly read and considered their evaluations of me. Over the years, I have found the student assistants’ evaluations of me to be extremely helpful and include them in my professional annual evaluations.

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Lucas Knapp working on a reference query. Lucas is a junior majoring in Mathematics and Environmental Studies. Image courtesy Marcus Robyns.

A carefully defined and structured evaluation process is essential for a successful student assistant, paraprofessional program. Archivists lacking in supervisory training and experience may find it difficult to work with student paraprofessionals. For the most part, undergraduates require a heightened level of supervision and guidance that can be a time-consuming distraction for a lone arranger facing multiple demands and responsibilities. In general, an undergraduate’s developing maturity and emerging self-confidence can result in frequent mistakes and difficulties dealing with challenging patrons or overbearing faculty. Undergraduates are still developing their problem-solving skills. Sometimes, their earnestness to please and do well will cause them to make decisions or take actions “beyond their paygrade” that can cause real havoc. In my experience, fortunately, I have found these problems to be manageable and infrequent. In fact, I have only implemented the Archives’ disciplinary procedure twice in my career at NMU.

The advantages of a paraprofessional, student assistant program far outweigh the disadvantages, and these advantages accrue to the students as well as to the archives. As college and university archivists, we have a responsibility to support and enhance our undergraduates’ education. The NMU Archives provides each student assistant with a unique experiential learning opportunity and the experience necessary to compete for post-graduate professional jobs and graduate school applications. NMU Archives student assistants have conducted digitization projects and created the digital object metadata for ArchivesSpace; they have designed and created web sites and online exhibitions; conducted public presentations; and created DACS-compliant collection finding aids. Although NMU does not have a graduate archival program, five former student assistants are now professional archivists and records managers. Two others have completed their PhDs in history; one is a PhD microbiologist; one is ABD in linguistic anthropology; and another is ABD in Medieval literature. The remainder have gone on to successful professional careers related to their major degree program.

The Archives student assistant program did not spring to life overnight according to a well-defined blueprint. It was a collaborative effort between me and the student assistants that, for the most part, was a halting, piecemeal process of trial and error.

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Libby Serra digitizing a collection of oral histories and creating ArchivesSpace digital object metadata. Libby is a junior majoring in Digital Cinema. Image courtesy Marcus Robyns.

Naturally, all archival programs should be fully staffed by professionally trained archivists. One should not misconstrue the NMU Archives’ student assistant program as evidence to support staffing cutbacks, or as an excuse for administrations to continue their exploitation of adjunct faculty and part-time staff. For the struggling college or university lone arranger, however, the program’s success provides a possible solution to the problem of meager budgets and burgeoning demand for archival resources and services. Archivists in higher education are fortunate to have at their disposal a ready crop of inexpensive, smart, skillful, and highly motivated undergraduate students. To reap the benefits of this harvest, all we have to do is acknowledge and treat our student assistants with the respect they deserve as paraprofessionals. With just a bit of effort, an enterprising lone arranger can identify and mold these young people into effective and productive staff members.

[1] Barbara L. Floyd and Richard W. Oram, “Learning by Doing: Undergraduates as Employees in Archives,” The American Archivist 55 (Summer, 1992): 440-452.


Marcus Robyns is professor and University Archivist at Northern Michigan University.  He worked professionally in Texas and Oregon before landing at NMU in 1997.  Marcus is the author of numerous publications, including Functional Analysis in Archival Appraisal: A Practical and Effective Alternative to Traditional Appraisal Methodologies (Lanham, Maryland: Rowman and Littlefield, 2014) and is a former Regent for Exam Administration, Academy of Certified Archivists.

Digitizing Union College’s Alumni Files: Scanning and Student Engagement

By India Spartz

As you can imagine, when an undergraduate liberal arts institution like Union College is more than 200 years old, it generates and receives an astonishing amount of information about its alumni: newspaper clippings, notes, letters, and ephemera related to centuries of graduates.

In an attempt to maintain active relationships with its alumni, Union’s College Relations department established a series of alumni files. Several decades ago, files dating from 1795 to 1929 were transferred to the Schaffer Library’s Special Collections and Archives department for research purposes and safekeeping (the materials are currently stored in a secured climate controlled environment).

The files are a rich and valuable resource for documenting the history of Union College, and Special Collections receives frequent requests from students, faculty, and researchers who seek information pertaining to its alumni.

When I arrived as head of Special Collections & Archives in 2014, the alumni files were stored on shelves in the library’s basement. This arrangement meant that student workers and library staff descended three flights of stairs to pull files. Aside from the amount of time it took to retrieve and return the files, frequent handling put the materials at risk for damage. I immediately recognized the need to relocate the alumni files into the Special Collections & Archives department and began developing a way to scan the contents of each folder for long term preservation and access.

Union College is like most small undergraduate liberal arts institutions: we currently lack a sophisticated digital lab and have limited resources for outsourcing large digital scanning projects. So I determined that the best way to tackle scanning hundreds of alumni files would be to utilize student workers. In 2015, through a generous bequest, the library acquired a Zeutschel OS12002 overhead scanner. The Zeutschel makes it possible to customize scanning settings, which allowed us to streamline the digitization process. This feature also allows students to be quickly trained to scan the alumni files using basic Photoshop commands.

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Explanation of and example of file naming structure employed throughout the project.

In order to capture the necessary metadata, Special Collections & Archives collaborated with the Technical Services department to create protocols for assigning numbers for each item within a folder. The metadata naming schema uses the surname and first initial of the alum (as shown in image at right).

Training
The Technical Services department trains students on how to use the Zeutschel. The Special Collections & Archives staff also train students on handling and handwriting the metadata (using a #2 pencil) on each document. More experienced students have also acted as trainers by teaching each other how to scan and code the documents. So far, the students have successfully scanned folders dating from 1795 to 1866.

Challenges

  • It turns out that the more recent folders require additional time to complete, as they contain more information. This has slowed the pace of scanning considerably.
  • As students graduate, it’s imperative that the Special Collections & Archives department hire new student workers each year and provide training in order to continue the project.
  • Folders post-1900 are likely to contain confidential information since the College Relations department began sending questionnaires to alumni. These questionnaires requested information about their personal lives (names and birthdates of children, home addresses, etc.). Therefore, it may be necessary to restrict post-1900 alumni files because of confidentiality concerns.
  • As of this writing, scanned alumni files are only accessible via an in-house server. Special Collections & Archives staff are authorized to reference these files for researchers. Patrons may receive copies of the digitized files upon request. The Schaffer Library recently launched an institutional repository called Union Digital Works. This platform will likely serve as the online access point for digitized alumni files. Once online, researchers will have full access to the pre-1900 alumni files via the internet.

 

Student engagement
While the coding and scanning process can be tedious, students have surprisingly embraced these tasks. More than once, they have commented that coding and digitizing the documents provides an opportunity to listen to music on their headphones, relax, and escape their rigorous schedules.

Anouk, a senior majoring in environmental sciences, has worked on the project for two years. I asked her what she likes about coding and scanning the documents. She responded that she felt a sense of ownership of the project and commented that the project has taught her a great deal about the history of Union College and the importance of preserving historical documents for the future.

Quality assurance (QA)
The student work is overseen and checked by an Archives Assistant. This includes retrieving the saved digital files and spot checking everyone tenth one. Should a digital file need to be corrected or modified, the Archives Assistant consults with the student to fix the problem.  Once QA is complete, the finished digital files are stored on a secured “Library dark archive” or L: drive while access copies are made available to authorized staff via the “Library preservation” or M: drive.

Preserving the originals
After the folders are scanned and quality assurance is complete, they are filed in acid-free boxes for long-term storage. At the beginning of the project, we decided to keep the original manilla folders rather than re-house the documents into acid-free folders due to time and funding constraints.

Timeline and follow up
Because scanning the alumni files is an in-house project, there is no set timeline for completion. However, the department dedicates several students each year to scan the files. The post-1929 alumni files continue to be stored at College Relations. As this phase of the scanning project moves toward completion, efforts will be made to reach out and acquire the more recent alumni files for scanning and long-term storage.

Conclusion
While this project not only preserves the alumni files, it has also made it possible to eventually make the alumni files virtually accessible to researchers worldwide. By incorporating student workers into the process, the project has been able to move forward because of their enthusiasm and dedication. The students have also embraced the opportunity to work with historical documents and learn about Union College’s unique history while acquiring new technical skills that will serve them in the future.


India Spartz is the Head of Special Collections and Archives at Union College in Schenectady, NY. She holds an B.A. from the University of Alaska (her home state), MLIS from UC Berkeley, and M.A. in Museum Studies from the Institute of Archaeology, University College London. She’s a member of the Academy of Certified Archivists and serves on SAA’s College & University Archives Steering Committee.

Teaching with Primary Sources: The Charlotte Lederer Story

By Carrie Schwier

This blog post is drawn from one case study shared during a talk given at the 2017 SAA annual conference during Session 106 Active Learning for Archival Institutions: From Theory to Practice. Coincidently, as it relates to immigration it also ties in nicely to the last post Meet Your Vice-Chair: Ellen Engseth.

While I’ve been a full-time staff member of the IU Archives for almost 10 years now, in the summer of 2015 I moved into the new position of Outreach and Public Services Archivist and was tasked with developing our instruction program. This year our program served over 1,100 students in 70 separate sessions in 21 departments.

Like most archivists, I received no formal training on instruction during library school. Admittedly, looking back at my very early forays in instruction around 2011 I am a little embarrassed. These were often very passive sessions for the students, with me lecturing and leaving them little opportunity to interact with our collections. Over the years my teaching has been heavily influenced by a couple of professional development opportunities including the 2012 Midwest Archives Conference Symposium – Engaging Students and Teachers: Integrating Primary Sources in Curricula (in particular a session on Primary Sources in the College Classroom with Peter Carini, Dartmouth College), and in 2016 the first Librarians Active Learning Institute for Archives and Special Collections (LALI-ASC) at Dartmouth College. Both emphasized the importance of integrating active-learning techniques into the classroom, and the power that a strong story can have as our brains are built to process information as narrative. Furthermore, learning is enhanced when that story is authentic and relatable to the learners’ life.

COLL-S103 – Becoming “American”: Immigration and American Literature
Immediately following my return from LALI-ASC, a relatively new faculty member who was teaching an Intensive Freshman Seminar (IFS) course at Indiana University contacted me.  IFS classes are two-week 3-credit classes intended to introduce “freshman to the rigors of college life” two weeks prior to the start of fall semester. IFS classes typically enroll about 20 students. While planning the instruction session the professor noted that he anticipated the course would attract a large percentage of international students, and this may be their first time in the United States. Ultimately, we choose to target three learning objectives from the ACRL RBMS – SAA Joint Task Forces – Guidelines for Primary Source Literacy:

  • that students understand that they can “draw on primary sources to generate and refine research questions.” (I. Conceptualize; C.)
  • that students “recognize and understand the policies and procedures that affect access to primary sources” specifically in regards to handling and necessity for usage in a secure reading room (II. Find and Access; E. )
  • that students can “identify and communicate information found in primary sources, including summarizing the content of the source and identifying and reporting key components such as how it was created, by whom, when, and what it is.” (III. Read, Understand, Summarize; B.)

 

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Page 1 of letter used in classroom discussion. Image courtesy the author.

Using a flipped classroom model to free up in-class time at the archives for active-learning activities, prior to their visit to the IU Archives the students were assigned to read this letter written in September 1940, by then IU student Charlotte (Lotte) Lederer, a Viennese Jewish refugee to the IU President and Board of Trustees. In the letter, she thanks the Trustees for supporting her studies, talks about her upbringing and about how her parents wanted an education for her equal to that of her brother, the start of the war, and her father’s support of the ill-fated Austrian government. She also goes on to mention that she recently applied for her first citizenship papers and hopes to always live in Indiana. Today’s readers are left with a LOT of hanging questions, which are perfect for demonstrating the above learning objectives. Prior to class, the students are simply asked to come prepared with a list of questions they have about the letter.

During their 90-minute session at the archives, as a group we first compile a list of questions: Did she graduate? Was she Jewish? What happened to her family? Based upon inflation, what would the cost of tuition be compared to that of today? Etc. I use this letter with multiple classes, and based upon their backgrounds the students ask different things and always add questions that I have yet to consider. I use this as an opportunity to share with students the number of directions that a single primary source can take them.

The students are then divided into 6 groups for a think-pair-share activity featuring other documents that fill in details of Ms. Lederer’s life and answer some of the questions they have generated. Included are a New York passenger ship log found through Ancestry.com, a dormitory scrapbook, newspaper clippings about a student refugee committee on campus, a wedding announcement found in the President’s office records, and a letter to the Alumni Association written while she was working as a classification analyst at the Pentagon. Students are then asked to fill out a simple worksheet answering questions such as What is it? When was it made? Where was it made? Who made it and why? What part of Lotte’s story does your item fill in? And does it raise any new questions? Then as a group, I ask the students to report back in a certain order on their documents so as to continue the suspense of the narrative for a while longer.

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Students examine a scrapbook during an archives session. Image courtesy the author.

For the second half of the session, in order to reinforce these new skills I pull out another group of items from our collection that are completely unrelated to the Lederer story. For example, oral history interviews from Indiana immigrant communities, records from the Cosmopolitan Club, an early student group formed to support international students, examples of Polish ethnic jokes from the Folklore Institute student papers, and photos and notebooks from our Charles Cushman collection of a Polish Independence Day parade in Chicago in the 1940s. Again in pairs the students work through a similar set of questions as with the Lederer activity (What is it? Who made it? And finally – what’s one question that you have?). The students then come back together as a group to share their findings with their classmates. I also remind them that now they have each generated a research question that they could further develop into a project.

Offered again this fall, a second iteration of this course was expanded into a full sixteen-week course. With each, the professor shared that many of the students expressed that the Charlotte Lederer activity really resonated with them, in particular because she was a college student at Indiana University such as themselves. There is something quite powerful when you can use historical documents which refer to places and spaces intimately familiar to students.

To conclude, I will admit that it took a good amount of time (multiple hours) to develop this activity, most of the time going towards doing the research to find the pieces of Charlotte’s story that were present in our collection. This process actually proves helpful during the instruction session however, as I can share with the students my own research hurdles in an authentic way.

Furthermore, I certainly can’t create a new exercise like this for every instruction session that I teach. This one exercise is quite adaptable for a range of learning objectives and subjects. I use this letter for classes in the History department, Gender Studies, and even recently a School of Education Social Studies for Elementary Schools class. The key is finding an engaging document, which raises a TON of questions. Perhaps it relates to a local mystery, or scandal, or simply something that will draw an emotional response – every archive has that!

Are you wondering how to find engaging documents for use in instruction? Just keep an eye out for ideas while providing reference services, processing new collections, or looking for social media content. My position involves doing a ton of reference so when I run across something interesting that makes me ask questions, I make a quick photocopy and add it to my file of instruction ideas.

If you would like to know more about Charlotte Lederer’s story, see this post at the IU Archives’ Blogging Hoosier History.


Carrie Schwier is the Outreach and Public Services Archivist at the Indiana University Archives. In addition to instruction, she also manages public services, oversees exhibits and outreach initiatives, and supervises lots of graduate students. She holds an M.A. in Art History and M.L.S. with Archives Specialization from Indiana University, and a B.A. from Hanover College.

Documenting Student Activities and Activism on Campus: Bringing Activist Alumni into the Fold

By Bryan Whitledge

AAblog-04CMU Stop Hate Walkout, November 15, 2016. Image courtesy of Steve Jessmore, Central Michigan University.

Activism is nothing new among the students on college campuses. As the cycle goes at colleges and universities, those activists will hopefully become degree-holding alumni. With this constant turnover, one hurdle that pops up for archivists is how to document campus activism as people leave for the next chapter in their lives. In the attempt to capture today’s activist movements, there are some benefits to be had by working with other campus activists, even decades after they left the institution. At Central Michigan University (CMU), a fruitful relationship with alumni who participated in a variety of groups and movements during the Vietnam War-era not only helped the archives round out the information about that time of activism at CMU, but has been of use to build a relationship with today’s activist students.

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Freedom Hall at Central Michigan University, ca. May 6, 1970. Image courtesy of the Clarke Historical Library.

In 2016, some members of the robust activist community that existed in and around Central Michigan University in the late 1960s and early 1970s decided to get together in what they deemed a “No-Class Reunion.” This was perfect opportunity for the Clarke Historical Library to get involved. While the Clarke has relatively complete holdings of “official” records from that era, documents from the activist movement are far from complete. This No-Class Reunion gave the archivists a chance to speak to the publishers of the underground papers, the organizers of the marches, and those who pushed through the doors to occupy the ROTC building and deem it Freedom Hall.

 

Out of the 180 or so “No-Classers,” about 20 took the Clarke up on the offer to visit the archives. These alumni were impressed and excited to see the vast amount of materials already collected about their activism, and they were delighted to think of how they could contribute more to the holdings. Some of them also agreed to participate in a recorded discussion about their experiences, which would be added to the historical documents.

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“No-Class Reunion” participants, 2016. Image courtesy of the Clarke Historical Library.

Before turning this relationship into a positive tool for connecting with current activist students, staff at the Clarke learned some interesting facts about the activist alumni that could be true beyond the Mount Pleasant campus. First, the No-Classers did not have much contact with the university in the traditional ways other alumni do. This could possibly be explained though their student life experiences, which did not include what are normally deemed traditional activities like Greek life, athletics, clubs, and such. Regardless, the No-Classers did not arrange the event with the Alumni Association, but they did reach out to the archives. It seems that the archives and, more likely, the chance for activists to document the history of the change-making in which they were involved, may be the best link a University has with activist students.

The second bit of information learned from the No-Class Reunion is about building trust and forming bonds between activists and an official university entity, like the archives. For the No Class-ers, the trust was built easily, most likely because their age and geographic distribution meant there were few to no negative consequences to be had for contributing to the historic record. On the one hand, time and distance make trust-building come easy. On the other, the strong bonds formed with the No-Class-ers gave the archives credibility with some current activist students. The Clarke has since been working with a few very active students to add historic context to their documentary project exploring activism at CMU.

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Central Michigan University students during an anti-Vietnam War Rally, ca. 1969. Image courtesy of the Clarke Historical Library.

In an effort to have as complete a record of campus activism as possible, the Clarke found that working with alumni from decades passed payed off. The benefits were not only found in adding to the historical record and helping forge bonds with today’s activists. There were also lessons learned including the fact that the opportunity to document change-making could make the archives the best point of contact activist students will have with institution as alumni. Even so, it may take time – nearly five decades for the No-Class-ers – before activist alumni are ready to share their stories and part with their records.


Bryan Whitledge is the Archivist for University Digital Records at Central Michigan University. During his time at the Clarke Historical Library, he has worked in multiple reference, access, and outreach capacities.

Exhibiting in the Wake of Tragedy: an Isla Vista Remembrance

By Julia Larson

Putting together exhibits of archival and library material can be fun and a good learning experience for all involved. But what if the topic of the exhibit is tragedy? How do you exhibit materials that affected every member of a campus community? What can you do as staff and faculty to help those who have been affected the most, the students? By working with students, and letting them have a voice in choosing materials and designing some of the exhibition rooms, we tried to create a space for healing and promote compassion.

On May 23, 2014, a young man killed six University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB) students and injured 14 others. In the wake of the tragedy, spontaneous memorials sprung up in the seaside college town of Isla Vista, where the rampage took place. A UCSB graduate student, Melissa Barthelemy, was approached by undergraduates who asked her to find a way to save the items so that they would not be discarded. She began taking care of the materials in situ (sleeving paper cards, working with the property managers on removal of dead flowers, leaving notebooks for students and community members to write their thoughts and prayers). Barthelemy, a graduate student in history, then began working with librarians Rebecca Metzger and Annie Platoff to form a committee to deal with the memorial items and work with the Library’s Special Research Collections Department to collect and archive the materials. Their Ad hoc Memorial Preservation Committee worked closely with the university administration and Student Affairs Division, as well as the History Department and property owners to collect and preserve cards, letters, candles, and other ephemera. Barthelemy became the project manager for the entire project, and Platoff was the curator of the collection. They worked with the Public History Department to have undergraduate student interns earn credits to organize and scan hundreds of cards and notes during the fall 2014 quarter. By winter quarter 2015, a plan to exhibit the materials for the one-year anniversary had been decided upon and a history class was offered as an opportunity for students to get hands-on experience handling archive and exhibition materials. The problem was location.

In 2015, the UCSB Library was nearing the final stretch of a 3 year, $80 million renovation and addition, and space was tight in the portions of the library that were not under construction. With so many students affected by the tragedy, the normal library exhibit spaces would not work. The committee did not want students who see the library as a safe and quiet space to study to encounter materials from the tragedy in a hallway exhibit or in the normal Special Collections exhibit areas. The library needed a space that was on campus, public enough to encourage visitation, but private enough for students and family members to visit and grieve in peace. The only space that fit the criteria was overflow office space, where a few library departments had moved temporarily during construction. It was a World War II-era gymnasium building, a holdover from when UCSB was a Marine Air Base, halfway between the History Department and the library, near the center of campus. It consisted of nearly 9000 square feet of office space, with a maze of windowless rooms, a mix of large rooms with long blank walls and smaller rooms, perfect for the university counselors to talk to visitors privately, if needed. The only catch was that library staff were not moving out of their offices until April 30, and the exhibit was to open on May 20, just in time for the one-year anniversary memorial.

A history class, taught by Professors Ann Plane and Randy Bergstrom, divided students up into two main groups: students working on the exhibit, and students working on processing the collection for the archive. Annie Platoff supervised the students processing the items (close to 50 cubic feet, and a couple thousand items) into the collection so that they could be put on display in the exhibit. Melissa Barthelemy supervised the students in the exhibit planning, design, and construction. She recruited me (since I am her spouse) to be the Exhibit Installation Coordinator and work with the students on the layout and construction of the exhibit, since I had worked at a number of museums in the past, though at the time I was working at the UCSB Library. Since this was in addition to my full-time job, I worked with a group of students and volunteers every evening from 7 p.m. until midnight most days during May to construct the exhibit, entitled We Remember Them: Acts of Love and Compassion in Isla Vista.

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We Remember Them room. Photo by Tony Mastres; courtesy UCSB Library.

Many in-kind donations of time and resources flowed in—the UCSB Art Museum donated the use of 16 exhibit cases, the Library donated the use of a large video monitor to display the digital images of the memorial sites, Facilities donated their custodial services staff to clean the exhibit space, Associated Students donated materials to be put on display, Office of Student Life organized volunteers to help staff the exhibit, and Counseling Services brought in counselors for emotional support. And even the students in the class brought their friends and partners along to help with the exhibit installation. A student in the class who was an art major created the image for the publicity materials, a recent graduate who had taken many photos of the spontaneous memorial sites became the project photographer, a graduate student in psychology became the exhibit supervisor, and a few students worked both on processing the collection and installing the exhibit—this gave them the opportunity to pick out the items that would work best for each exhibit case.

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Floor plan of exhibition rooms with suggested path. Image courtesy of Melissa Barthelemy.

The exhibit space was defined as seven interconnected rooms, with auxiliary space left over for a volunteer kitchen, office, exhibit prep room, and two small rooms designated as ‘counseling rooms’ for the counseling staff to use. Long hallways extended around the center rooms, which provided space for the large chalkboards from a spontaneous memorial site (with messages written by community members and sealed for preservation), and new cork boards for visitors to hang notes and messages on. The first portion of the exhibit honored the lives of the victims, and contained biographies approved by their family members. An exhibit case showed items left at the memorial sites that had specific messages for each victim. The next two rooms showed the outpouring of support and condolence materials from the sites of spontaneous memorials. Exhibit cases highlighted each of the spontaneous memorial sites at four of the sites of violence, with cards, mementos, origami cranes, candles, and graduation leis. Photos of the memorial service held in the UCSB stadium which was attended by 23,000 people, a photo panorama of the paddle out (1000 surfers on a calm ocean), the memorial candlelight vigil, and a video message of condolence from Vice President Joseph Biden filled the next rooms. One room also highlighted how those affected had channeled their energy into gun reform, mental health awareness, and a feminist response to violence.  Two more rooms showed how the community has come together, with a Memorial Garden, scholarships in the name of each victim, messages of support for the first responders, and a space for visitors to write their own thoughts in comment books. We chose digital photographs from student photographers, local and university newspapers, and a few images from international news sources for display in the exhibit. A local printing business worked a few late nights as we sent them high resolution images for them to print onto 16×20 foam core, with another piece of foam core attached to the back, so that all we had to do was put nail into the wall and hang the photos from the strip of foam. Another local frame shop devised plexi-glass holders for some of the cards and hand-colored paper hearts from local school children, which allowed for quick, easy, and cost-effective display. The fragile and simple display of materials in frameless plexi emphasized the spontaneous nature of the materials on display. As a flexible overflow space, most of the walls were fairly sturdy drywall, however others were plastic, and still others were cubicle walls that hid various electrical or plumbing features in certain rooms. Two rooms had very old track lighting, but most were the standard office fluorescent lights; some rooms had standard office carpet, but two other rooms and the hallways had the bare, original 1942 basketball floor.

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Come Together/ Continuing events room. Photo by Tony Mastres; courtesy UCSB Library.

A room apart from the main flow of the exhibit was the Reflection Room—it was largely designed by the students and featured comfortable couches, mood lighting, colorful posters, and was designed as a place for them to ‘chill’ and relax. It became the place where families and friends of the victims could sit and talk and grieve together. In total, there was about 6000 square feet of exhibition space, spanning nine rooms. Since the exhibit was dependent upon students and volunteers for staffing, we planned to be open only five hours each day for four weeks, ending just after graduation in late June. After faculty, students with their parents, staff, and even the Chancellor visited the exhibit over graduation weekend, the exhibit was extended another six weeks. In total, over 1800 visitors came through the exhibit, some only once, and some returned multiple times.

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Reflection Room. Photo by Tony Mastres; courtesy of UCSB Library.

There are a few takeaways from this experience. Not all communities grieve in the same way after events like this. While the tragedy did not take place on campus, it was just two blocks away – in the center of the Isla Vista community, where the students go to hang out, eat, work, and where most of them live, in one of the most densely populated unincorporated areas in the western U.S. The students working on the exhibit wanted to reclaim that seaside town through the Reflection Room, they needed to remind themselves of the Isla Vista before the tragedy. And the staff and faculty needed to remind themselves that we are all one community, both town and gown. The effort to get all of the various departments and units to work together and contribute to this exhibit is not to be underestimated; bureaucracy does not disappear, but can sometimes be ignored if necessary.  In the end, the success of the exhibit was not based on numbers of visitors, or length of time it was open. But it was in the ability of the students to come together and create something out of tragedy, to find ways to grieve collectively, and heal as a community.


Julia Larson is the Reference Archivist for the Architecture and Design Collection at the Art, Design & Architecture Museum at the University of California, Santa Barbara. In 2015, she was working at the UCSB Library when she was asked to be the Exhibit Installation Coordinator for the We Remember Them: Acts of Love and Compassion in Isla Vista memorial exhibit. She is currently working on an upcoming exhibit, UCSB Campus Architecture: Design and Social Change, which opens in January 2018.