This piece is a companion to Cat Phan’s previous post describing the creation of the Student Historian in Residence position at the University of Wisconsin Archives.
My name is Rena Yehuda Newman (they/them), the Student Historian in Residence at the University of Wisconsin (UW) Archives for the 2018-2019 school year. The Student Historian position has now completed its pilot year, open and full of possibility. What began as an undergraduate research opportunity expanded into a project that not only reflects on history but turns forward to the future, integrating modern outreach and collection projects into the work of creating student memory.
I’m a history student going into my senior year at UW-Madison. My work at the University Archives began in July 2018, fresh to the world of archives and deep-diving research. For me, this was my first experience with long term research, beyond a short paper or a couple brief sessions with primary source materials in a reading room. Though my research would unfold in unexpected directions, I had set out intending to study student activism during the Vietnam War era, focusing on the anti-racist organizing efforts of the late 1960s, like the Black Student Strike. With eight to ten hours a week in the archives, I had the chance to wander down rabbit holes and find myself in a wonderful, spinning universe of secret doors and unopened boxes. By October I had my land legs and adventurer’s tools; I was totally submerged in the archives, sailing paper seas.
During my time in this position, I researched the Black Student Strike of 1969, one of the most major (and arguably most successful) student protest movements of the sixties, where a core group of black student organizers mobilized thousands of UW students to fight for the creation of a Black Studies Department, one of their “13 Demands” for racial justice at UW. This study culminated in a research paper and a teaching kit commemorating the 50th Anniversary of the movement, part of a collaborative celebration event between the University Archives, University Communications, and the Black Cultural Center. Along the way I also stumbled upon several unresearched folders and boxes, including a set of materials about Educational Policy Studies 900, an entirely student-led course run concurrently to the Black Student Strike. In the second semester of its offering, the class had over five hundred students enrolled and had to be capped, lest the class accumulate a thousand. All of these subjects created opportunities for reflection and reckoning, both personal and public.
Inspired by all of these student organizers, I became determined to make my historical work face forward. While the University Archives is a source for learning about past activism, it is also filled with gaps and omissions of voices from the student organizers themselves; without these stories, student organizers of today are at a loss for their context. Looking around at the modern campus climate, I wanted to make sure that today’s change-making students would be able to speak for themselves. Learning to see students from the 1960s as historical subjects taught me that in 2019 we are historical subjects too. So how can the archives collect these stories? Documentation defends against erasure: I don’t want administrators telling our stories when we have the power to write our own.
In the spring, I began an oral history project to collect the stories of my peers — modern student activists addressing food and housing insecurity, racism, accessibility, trans rights, and more on campus from 2016-2019. Being a student paid to do archival work situates me in a special location which obligates me to both document and honor the work of my peers, preserving campus memory through their lived experiences on their own terms while also engaging in peer-education about the meaning and power of archives. Like any other public job, the Student Historian position is a great privilege and a great responsibility. The Student Historian should serve the student body, working with peers to preserve student memory.
University archives can and should fund paid positions for student historians and archivists, especially for undergraduates. Student staff are uniquely positioned to build trust and create lasting bonds between archives and the student community around them, engaging in relevant research, teaching other students to think of themselves as historical subjects, and collecting contemporary stories. Who is filling these positions also matters. Bearing equity in mind during position advertising and recruitment processes means hiring students holding marginalized identities who will bring unique, necessary perspectives to the work.
I am so grateful for the opportunity to have held the position of Student Historian in Residence. I learned deeply from the staff, from the materials, from my peers. As this position grows from grant funding to a more institutionally supported structure, backed by the UW General Library System, I hope that this position will continue to provide impactful opportunities for future scholars and activists, creating a long line of Student Historians (maybe even a cohort!) at UW-Madison, inspiring similar programs at schools across the country. May this memory-work find its way beyond the walls of the archives and into the minds and memories of students on this campus and beyond. We are historical subjects — let’s act like it and document the meaning along the way.
The University Archives at the University of Wisconsin-Madison just completed the pilot year of its Student Historian in Residence program this summer. This program is designed to provide the opportunity for one undergraduate student to join the staff of University Archives for an academic year and undertake a significant research project related to university history focusing on under-researched and underrepresented stories and communities on campus. As part of their responsibilities, the Student Historian is also expected to engage in outreach activities, promoting their discoveries and the collections and sharing the outcome of their research in one or more ways.
The program started as a simple idea conceived to take advantage of a funding opportunity. The UW-Madison General Library System was inviting all library units to submit proposals for the new Innovation Fund, a program “to financially support the most promising innovative ideas proposed by library staff across the General Library System.” So, we in the University Archives proposed and were awarded pilot funding for a new student staff position, the Student Historian in Residence. The idea was straightforward: provide a paid opportunity to a student to undertake research in our archives collections on a topic related to campus history, focusing on underrepresented campus stories. We modeled the position after similar programs at other institutions as an intense weeks-long limited term research project, and our goals were simple: bring students into the archives to do research and learn more about previously overlooked aspects of campus history.
We posted for the position, leaving it open to both undergraduate and graduate students. Out of a healthy applicant pool, we hired Rena Yehuda Newman, an undergraduate history major entering their junior year. We structured Rena’s work first by onboarding them to the University Archives and archives in general, selecting readings and pulling targeted collections around their interest area, student activism. We set up one-on-one meetings for Rena to meet and get to know the rest of the University Archives staff and also set up a weekly check-in meeting for Rena and me, as their direct supervisor. As we got to laying out a tentative plan and target milestone deadlines for their project, we quickly realized that the original idea of several intense weeks was not suited for an undergraduate student. Rena had a packed class schedule, among other obligations. We had to readjust the work to be fewer hours per week, over a longer period of time. It was something we would have to do all year long: adjust, pivot, and accelerate in a different direction.
Rena’s list of accomplishments during the year is long and impressive. They regularly contributed to our UW-Madison Archives Tumblr feed, notching ten blog entries; they wrote a research paper; presented on their work and their research at least five times across campus, including a guest lecture to their undergraduate peers in a Civil Society and Community Studies class; produced a primary resource teaching guide around the UW-Madison Black Student Strike of 1969 (a version of which will soon be submitted as a resource to Wisconsin OER Commons); presented a poster at the Midwest Archives Conference (and was selected as one of the top three scoring posters!); created a zine “What is an Archive?”; and undertook collecting some oral histories of contemporary student activism on campus. The position and Rena have been, without a doubt, an amazing success.
As we take the time to reflect now, there are many things that we learned over the past year that will help us structure the program moving forward. First and foremost, we realize this should be defined as an undergraduate position. Although left undefined in the pilot year, having hired an undergraduate student as our inaugural Student Historian, we witnessed the impact of empowering and trusting undergraduate students to play an integral role in researching and telling university stories. Moreover, few opportunities for archival and secondary source research exist for undergraduates. This position will likely be their first opportunity to engage in primary source research and to conceive of and complete a public history project. In this way, we contribute to introducing undergraduates to the archives and helping them understand their place in university history.
As mentioned above, we modified the structure of the position on the fly, changing it from a weeks-long project position to an academic year position, with Rena working many fewer hours per week than we had originally envisioned. This works best for undergraduates during the academic year, who often have limited hours per week to balance with a busy class schedule. In addition, we found it best to give the student more time to orient themselves and learn about the University Archives and archives in general. The longer time period also allows the student to get to know both full-time and student staff at the archives, an integral aspect of the experience. Moving forward, the general framework for the year will be 1) onboarding and orientation, 2) research, likely over the first semester, and 3) a writing/presenting and outreach focus during semester two.
We now know how important it is to devote a significant amount of time to properly onboard. While Rena had some familiarity with the archives, having had a class assignment that brought them into a reading room, they still needed time to learn more deeply about archives, what they are, and what they can mean to students in order to understand the goals of the position. It would also be worth spending time integrating the student into the other work of the archives, meeting the other student staff. Moreover, Rena unexpectedly launched into many outreach activities over the course of the year and effectively became a University Archives student ambassador to their peers. In thinking back, how would we want to prepare the student to be an archives ambassador? What should they know about archives, specifically about the University Archives collections, about what and how we accept and collect materials-(Rena brought donation ideas many times!)? Could we make our collection development and donation procedures easier for undergraduate students to understand? Moreover, Rena’s outreach work made us re-think what this position could and should be. We witnessed the impact of peer-to-peer outreach and education. In their final reflection piece, Rena wrote that they believed the position should be thought of more as a “public office” rather than strictly a research position. The position’s platform and power, they felt, gave them a responsibility to serve the student body by engaging in community outreach and educational activities.
There are also many challenges that we will continue to think through as we develop the program. For example, how do we provide a consistent framework, structure, and expectations for a position that will necessarily be defined by the individual who occupies it, with their own interests, experiences, and abilities? Also, we had many, many conversations with Rena on how their own identity impacted the work and research they were doing and can’t emphasize enough how important it is to hire students with perspectives from underrepresented communities on campus. We have not previously reached out to the black, indigenous, and students of color of campus. How do we reach out to these communities responsibly and respectfully to ensure they are a part of defining the program? There’s a lot to think about as we move forward.
Finally, I’m happy to report that we applied for and were awarded a Kemper Knapp Bequest grant, a UW-Madison campus grant supporting projects that “have an impact on the educational and cultural life of the university community, particularly projects that benefit undergraduate students” to continue the program for another year. Moreover, we are working with the budget powers that be to develop what the funding would look like to support the program permanently through the General Library System budget.
We are excited to continue growing the Student Historian program and recognize that it is still in its early years. We’re grateful for the opportunity to share our experience and invite others to share their thoughts or experiences with similar programs.
Stay tuned as our next post will feature Rena’s perspective on their experience as the inaugural Student Historian in Residence.
Cat Phan has been the Digital and Media Archivist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison University Archives since December 2016, caring for and managing the image and audiovisual collections of the Archives and leading the development of the born-digital archiving program.
Across campuses nationwide, universities are taking an even closer look at the history of their organizations. Those who work with archives know this is nothing new, but we seem to see it more often in our daily news. Buildings and streets being renamed; monuments and statues being removed; yearbooks being scoured; all of these can pop up in our newsfeeds.
The George Washington University (GW) in Washington, D.C. is experiencing this as well. The University’s history can be traced back to 1819 when a group of Baptist ministers worked together to purchase land, petition Congress for a charter (awarded February 9, 1821), and organize a college, named Columbian College. Needless to say, much has happened in the intervening centuries.
Although I have only been at GW since August 2018, I have heard many stories of activism and awareness on campus. Almost immediately, I was able to view and experience firsthand how the work of past Special Collections professionals influenced our holdings and how faculty and students use the archives in a variety of ways. I will provide some examples of how the archives have been used for special projects and in classes, and how archives and library professionals can create specific outputs to support this work.
GW’s Special Collections Research Center (SCRC) partnered with the Office of Diversity and Inclusion beginning in 2013-2014 for a Diversity Research Fellowship. The Fellowship, funded through the Office of Diversity and Inclusion’s Innovation in Diversity and Inclusion grants, was open to any current GW student; applicants supplied a research statement that described their own areas of research interest, their GW faculty advisor’s contact information, their resume, and an optional list of collections they wanted to view. The fellows used University Archives to research topics such as non-academic staff, women, veterans, and international students at GW. The program continued in 2014-2015 and a second cohort of fellows researched religion on campus, LGBTQ movements on campus, and the 1960s Chicano movement and its impact on GW’s curriculum. Their work was shared in a variety of ways including presentations, social media and blog entries, with the majority of information incorporated into GW Past, a staff-generated set of articles, which began first as an Encyclopedia. The program specific to the Special Collections was discontinued after the second year, however the Innovation in Diversity and Inclusion grants continue more broadly (and research projects using archives are still funded).
At a push from the faculty and following the example of many other schools, in 2016 GW’s then-president, Steven Knapp, funded a one-year student research project to identify resources related to slavery, segregation, and racial justice in the University Archives. Some of this information, such as the history of slavery at the University, had been documented on GW Past.
Continuing the momentum from President Knapp’s one-year project, a new class in the department of history was created to explore GW’s history with slavery and segregation. The class, HIST2305W, was first offered in Spring 2018, and I participated in it during its second year in Spring 2019. The students were able to choose whatever topic they wanted – the main caveat being the majority of their research had to utilize archives from GW. Leah Richardson, Research and Instruction Librarian for Special Collections, created a research guide and worked with other SCRC staff to create a list of topics and potential collections; however, it was expanded upon to include the students’ interests. I had a wonderful and thought-provoking experience working with these students and it was a crash course in GW history. Topics students researched included segregation and desegregation of Greek life; segregation in Foggy Bottom (the DC neighborhood where the university is located); Lisner Auditorium and segregation; University President Cloyd Heck Marvin; and race in the Second World War.
Tom Guglielmo’s Fall 2018 class, AMST4500W: Interrogating GW, is another great example of archives being used to reflect on the school’s past. The students spent a few classes physically located in the Special Collections, working with staff and using archival collections. Each student spent the semester writing a substantial research paper on some aspect of the university, such as student activism; race, class, or gender politics; real estate holdings; cultural representation; labor struggles; and the school’s relationship to DC or Foggy Bottom. The students presented their work at a conference at the end of the semester (also look for the hashtag #interrogateGW on Twitter). While this class was on the history of GW generally, many of the same topics were explored. There has certainly been an impact on the archives staff with the influx of new classes and people researching, often on the same topics or using the same material. For more on my experiences with these challenges, please plan to attend our Section Meeting in Austin on Saturday, August 3 from 10-11:15 a.m., or watch for the shared notes from that meeting.
Student leaders at GW have also been working to move forward on renaming buildings on campus. The Student Association convened an informal task force of about ten students to conduct background research on prominent names on university buildings in 2017. Students, however, graduate and move on from the university, thus the task force had a bit of trouble keeping momentum. More recently, students want to form a committee comprised of faculty, students and officials who will research building names.[i]
Ultimately, throughout all of these topics and explorations, the archives can open up new pathways to discovery. These activities are bringing people, perhaps for the first time, into contact with these original materials. The GW Special Collections are open to the public, and we welcome everyone to conduct this research themselves.
What can archives professionals do to aid in this type of work? Leah’s Research Guide is an excellent example of being able to look in one place to identify relevant collections. We also do not have to reinvent the wheel each time – we keep track of what has been done in the past, and keep building. At GW, perhaps we could explore more topics with GW Past, and point to the specific collections that contain the information. We could also put together information for people at various levels of the organization – from students to faculty to the administration. When I come across information on the naming of a building, I make a note or take a photograph to remind myself of it just in case there is a question in the future.
The George Washington University is nearly 200 years old. The Special Collections are here to continue to document the history and events of the past and present, to lead us into the future and assist those who are working towards campus change by making that information available. The rest is up to them.
Brigette C. Kamsler is the University Archivist at The George Washington University. Originally from Gettysburg, PA, she was United States Corporate Archivist for the bank HSBC; Project Archivist at the Burke Library at Columbia University in the City of New York; and Archivist and Research Center Coordinator at the Historical Society of Frederick County, Maryland.
Several colleagues and I proposed a panel presentation for this year’s Midwest Archives Conference (MAC) Annual Meeting in Chicago. Our topic was one-shot interactions in the archives. Our questions were these: Can we teach effectively in these situations? Can we balance hands-on visitor experiences with our commitment to preservation, archival literacy, and historical thinking? Most important, can we foster connections between visitors and collections that will extend beyond a very brief interaction?
Our team consisted of Colleen McFarland Rademaker, Associate Librarian, Special Collections of the Corning Museum of Glass, who explored methodologies used by those who interpret heritage artifacts. Carrie Phillips, Archives and Special Collections Librarian at Bluffton University discussed her experiences using rare books to teach undergraduates. My part was to introduce principles of message design. Anne Thomason, Archivist and Special Collections Librarian at Lake Forest College, served as our able moderator.
From the outset we felt that this phenomenon, the one-shot interaction with archives visitors, deserved focused attention. The feedback we received post-conference confirmed that the discussion was welcomed and that our audience hoped for a more expanded exploration of the topic in our profession going forward.
I should say right now that I am not an academic archivist. My practical knowledge of instructional design is rooted in my experience as a corporate trainer. Because it was my job to support employees in achieving sales goals, I focused on “how-to” skill training. For the MAC presentation I put forward some concepts to help archivists deliver skills training to visitors in a one-shot scenario. Here’s a recap.
1. The Client In the normal course of events, someone asks us to teach a class, guide a tour or otherwise show off the archives. That someone is our client, the person who turns to us to address a knowledge or skill gap. It is helpful to understand two things about the client. One, that she or he is a partner with a stake in the one-shot outcome and two, that she or he is not always clear on what can reasonably be accomplished within the given parameters. Pre-event discussion will help you understand the gap, and post-event reporting can help build and strengthen a collaborative relationship with the client.
2. The Audience The actual folks you host in the archives are your audience, known as “learners” in Instructional Design. You may be able to make some educated guesses about the learners before you begin or, better yet, gain insight through discussion with your client. What is important to bear in mind in your prep and delivery is that adult learners always come equipped with the WIIFM factor: What’s In It For Me? They are not idly curious. They want to get something in exchange for their time and attention. That is particularly true when the audience did not self-select for the archives experience.
3. Lesson Design Perhaps the most rudimentary framework for lesson design is this one: Tell ‘em what you’re going to tell ‘em. Tell ‘em. Then tell ‘em what you told ‘em. And it’s actually a pretty solid approach if you must lecture or do a walk-and-talk tour of the archives.
But remember that WIIFM factor I mentioned? Your learners will be expecting to get something. For that something, you can turn to the Learning Objectives outlined in the ACRL-RBMS-SAA Guidelines for Primary Source Literacy. In five major category headings, this document enumerates “how-to” skills that are the building blocks of Primary Source Literacy. Match the need/knowledge/skill/ability level of the audience to one of the many options, and you have the beginnings of a lesson.
Start at the end. Once you select a learning objective to aim at with your learners, ask yourself this question, “What must the learner know or be able to do before she can do that?” And repeat. And repeat. This process will suggest to you the elements to build into your plan in order to achieve the learning objective.
Don’t overlook the beginning, either. This is where non-professional speakers so often go wrong by failing to jump right in. Greet your audience promptly and briefly. Preview what’s going to happen in the time you spend together. Then, forecast the outcome by saying something like, “Once you have completed the steps of today’s lesson, you will be able to…” It’s the “you will be able to” phrase that tells learners what’s in it for them.
4. Active Learning Learners will want to actively engage with archival materials. But how? Demonstration, worksheets and group discussion are some tried and true options to consider. Because the hands-on activity learners experience in the archives is so impactful, I recommend that you do some research on active training to discover what might work best for you, in your setting, with your learners. I would point you to Mel Silberman and Elaine Biech’s Active Training: A Handbook of Techniques, Designs, Case Examples and Tips. This book is now in its fourth edition, is readily available (Amazon, for example) and very approachable. The case studies and examples it provides are helpful in thinking through sequencing in a learning activity.
5. Follow-Up At MAC, Colleen McFarland Rademaker used a classic interpretive recitation developed for the National Park Service as an example and Carrie Phillips detailed her daring and successful Traveling Rare Bible Petting Zoo lesson. Both of these great ideas were honed, refined, reworked and reassessed over time. That kind of extensive follow-up is very much a part of designing solid learning experiences. Feedback and commentary on what works, what doesn’t quite work and what missed the target will inform your recalibration efforts, so that you can ultimately get an effective lesson design ‘on the shelf’ and ready to go when you need it.
6. It’s a process One-shot interactions are by nature limited in terms of time, resources and complexity. Can they be effective learning experiences? I believe they can be. At the same time it must be said that archivists who want to take on the challenge of mastering this art form will need to be tenacious to gain a skill set for which our professional training does not fully prepare us. Supportive clients, a strong outreach orientation and cross-disciplinary exposure to instructional design, museum education and heritage interpretation, for example, are prerequisite to developing and delivering meaty and meaningful one-shot interactions.
Patricia Carroll is an independent archivist specializing in the heritage collections of religious communities. She earned an MA in Human Performance and Training at Governors State University and her MLIS at Dominican University.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.)
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.
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.
Please join us tomorrow, Friday, August 5th, at 1 pm in Salon C for an exciting and informative College & University Section meeting! In addition to our usual section business items, we’ll have updates from several initiatives and projects of interest to C&U members, and an official unveiling of our section’s new blog, The Academic Archivist. This year we will also have a guest speaker on the timely topics of Teaching, Instruction, and Active Learning. Given that so many C&U section members participate in some level of library instruction and curriculum support in their day-to-day work, and often are evaluated on instructional activities for promotion and tenure, we hope this topic will be of wide interest and utility to all!
Our presenter is Peter Carini, College Archivist at Dartmouth, speaking on the Librarians Active Learning Institute (LALI) and the new Archives and Special Collections (LALI-ASC) program and developing archivists as teachers utilizing new approaches and ideas to promote active learning. Peter will also demonstrate active learning through a hands-on activity and then we’ll open the floor to discussion and Q&A. In addition to Peter’s work with LALI-ASC, he is an archivist/instructor and wrote “Archivists as Educators: Integrating Primary Sources into the Curriculum” in the Journal of Archival Organization, 2009.
Please prepare by thinking on your own experiences with developing courses and supporting curriculum and be prepared with questions, observations, and/or comments for a larger group discussion. And if you have time, check out a recent (July 20, 2016) opinion piece in the Chronicle of Higher Education – “Why a College Should Teach Its Own History” by Corey Ryan Earle.
We look forward to seeing many C&U members on Friday, August 5th, at 1 pm in Salon C!