RBMS 2016 Blog


Hands On/Do Not Touch

This is the first in a series of posts summarizing the RBMS 2016 Participatory Session: Mixing Hands-On and Do-Not-Touch: Workshop Session on Teaching with Special Collections.

Discussion leaders: Melissa Barton, Yale University and Molly Schwartzburg, University of Virginia

This session was conceived as a group brainstorm of ways to promote active learning when we provide instruction. We began the session by sharing aspects of our own work in which learning happens, and challenges we face in trying to ensure that learning happens. Melissa, who has a background as a classroom teacher, noted that she was trained in the belief that students learn best when they are doing the majority of the work—that is, talking to each other, handling materials, etc.

Molly pointed out some of the more unexpected areas in which she finds learners in her work: for example, what are student employee pages learning about collections? How can we engage these learners?

We opened these questions to the group and what emerged was a list of challenges we face, largely in the context of classroom instruction. These included:

  • The expectation of expertise about any and every aspect of our collections
  • Finding time to prepare adequately for instruction
  • Integrating single library instruction sessions with the larger goals of a course
  • Collaborating with faculty around planning, expectations, coverage, all of the above
  • Countering stereotypes about what librarians do
  • Class size can present challenges to active learning
  • The need to build rapport/relationships with students quickly
  • How to teach potentially dull but essential nuts and bolts like searching, requesting, handling

As these topics emerged, we landed on five areas in which to brainstorm suggestions and solutions.

They were:

  • Collaborating with faculty
  • Planning introductory sessions
  • Building rapport with students
  • Making the Most of the Show and Tell
  • Active Learning Exercises

Everyone came up with terrific suggestions! The first list, on collaborating with faculty is here; and the next ones will follow in subsequent posts.

Collaborating with Faculty

  • Keep in mind that there are different types of faculty with potentially different relationships to the library: adjuncts, new vs. seasoned, grad student instructors. At some institutions, subject liaison librarians are faculty and can serve as allies/collaborators.
  • Concerns in this area include: demands vs. setting realistic expectations; lack of demand; surprise visits; the challenge of breaking up with faculty.
  • Some ideas for managing expectations:
    • At Emory, faculty are required to schedule a consultation before they can hold a class.
    • We can ask all instructors to participate, rather than seeing a library class as a time to check out.
    • Consider a department meeting visit to discuss the needs/interests of faculty in groups.
    • Stress that working with the library is a partnership.
    • Set expectations well in advance of a class. Have requirements (e.g., materials list must be submitted one week before class).
  • Some ideas to increase participation by faculty:
    • Faculty fellowships/grants to develop courses.
    • Offer alternative resources, such as digital images from our collections.
    • Give faculty tours of the stacks.
    • Open house.
    • Go to faculty orientations (or get on the schedule for them to come to you during orientation).
    • Use follow-up evaluations.
    • Offer an end-of-year “library research award” to the best student research using primary source materials.
    • Seek administrative support/funding for programs.
    • Create policies.
  • Some ideas for creating assignments with faculty
    • Advise/work together on developing an assignment.
    • It may help to think small, such as a special collections one-pager or blog post.
    • Promote assignment support as a separate service that can be offered without a class visit (and insist that faculty contact the library if they plan to send students for an assignment so that we can prepare!).
    • Show interest in the results of student work—ask to share student papers on library blogs or publish in some other semi-formal way.

–Melissa Barton, Yale University & Molly Schwartzburg, University of Virginia