Amanda Keys Norman and Amie Oliver 2014-05-27 13:15:06
Special collections operate differently than other libraries, and because of this, they can be intimidating for patrons. Getting professors in the door can be a challenge, no matter how spectacular the collection. Building relationships with professors, whether personal or professional, is vital to having them use special collections for class projects. While such projects require a good amount of work for both the archivist and the professor, the rewards make the efforts a great investment of time and resources. Cultivating Relationships As coordinator for User and Access Services at Baylor University’s Texas Collection (TC), Amie Oliver has developed friendships with several professors and regularly mentions the unique materials in the collection. It was through one of these conversations with Spanish professor Scott Spinks that a project was born. Spinks was looking for a hands-on “lab” experience for humanities students, and Oliver informed him of our Spanishlanguage materials, including a collection of early nineteenth–century letters (the John Rowe collection). Spinks assigned each student a letter and gave them the challenge of transcribing the letter and updating it to modern Spanish. Spinks was initially worried about how students would react to the project—the letters were formal, handwritten, and challenging to translate. However, Oliver put his mind at ease by drawing on stories of users becoming enamored and inspired when working with the items in the collection. And indeed, students responded positively to the project; Spinks was so pleased that he is continuing the project with future classes. Initiating Contact Even if a professor used archives as a graduate student or in his or her own Amanda Keys Norman and Amie Oliver, The Texas Collection, Baylor University research, many don’t consider incorporating special collections materials into the curriculum. In addition, TC is often in competition with other libraries that also want professors to use their materials in the classroom. Sometimes the best efforts to attract classes to the special collections go unnoticed. One effective way to spark interest in special collections is to meet professors on their turf. Ask a department chair for a few minutes to speak at a department meeting, or human resources for some time during new faculty orientation. For example, while Spinks and Oliver were working together, he invited her to speak about TC and his Spanish transcription project at an on-campus modern foreign language minicolloquium. After the event, German professor Jennifer Good inquired about a special collections research project for her and her assistants, but she didn’t have knowledge of the content of TC or ideas about what kind of project she wanted to do—another challenge when dealing with professors. But that’s where special collections faculty and staff can help, especially if they keep a list (mental or written down) of potential research projects using collection materials. In this case, Oliver had worked on a complete reorganization of TC newspaper collections when she came across a Germanlanguage newspaper, the Waco Post, with holdings from the 1890s–1920s. Not much is known about the German Waco community, so she knew there was great research potential in those papers. Because Good was open to suggestions, Oliver pulled various German-language items, including the Waco Post, and Good and her assistants began a research project to examine this German community using the newspapers to glean information. Good recently presented findings at a conference and is excited to continue to use this resource—she plans to study the newspaper for the next ten to fifteen years. She will not need to make long research trips to Germany or Austria because the materials she needs are in the building next to hers. If Oliver hadn’t spoken at the mini-colloquium, Good may have never Thinking Creatively It’s also a challenge to find professors who are willing to step out of their comfort zones and think creatively about new projects. Professors have to consider the logistics involved with planning a new project for students. Typically, a professor will need to plan projects a semester or two in advance. We were lucky to work with a new, eager history professor, Zac Wingerd. After learning about our extensive map collection, he devised a map deconstruction project for his Atlantic world history class. Staff pulled about twenty maps representing the Atlantic world. Each student selected a map and researched it to find its significance, audience, bias, cartographer, and other facts. A few weeks later, the class returned to the map room to present their findings. Several TC staff attended the presentations and learned new information about maps. The professor was pleased with the project and is looking forward to using our materials more in the future. Expanding Existing Projects Sometimes a professor might decide to expand an existing special collections project. Nathan Alleman had been working with TC for a few years with his Foundations and History of Higher Education class, for which he assigned a ten-page paper on any topic in Baylor University’s history that required students to conduct research using primary sources. In 2012 he decided he wanted to do more with the project, noting that the work “should be available to a wider audience who would appreciate not just the basic historical facts, but the organizational context into which students are placing these events.” Of course, when people outside the discipline talk about context, it makes archivist hearts happy, so naturally we were happy to provide additional support for this project. University Archivist Amanda Norman worked with the professor and library technology staff to set up a class blog, which can be found at blogs.baylor .edu/hesabaylorhistoryproject. The posts are basically academic papers with visuals, and now anybody can find them. The blog will grow with students’ research each year; the 2012 class looked at Baylor from 1900 to 1920, the 2013 class focused on 1921 to 1930, and future students will continue to add to it. To prepare their posts, students scheduled individual research consultations with the university archivist to discuss topics and possible resources for exploration. These consultations were not required, but the majority of students met with the archivist at least once—for many of these students, the project was their first experience with special collections. Common topics explored on the blog thus far include athletics, Baylor’s relationship with its Baptist heritage, and women’s education. Other topics have ranged from examinations of particular student groups to Latin education in the curriculum to Baylor’s response to campus tragedy. We predict some topics will be explored year after year as Baylor’s response to different issues changes, but that every decade will present topics unique to the time. Students were excited to have their work online—which also motivated better research, we hope! Promoting Projects We promoted the Baylor history blog project by preparing posts on our own social media outlets. Because this was time consuming, we will ask the next class to promote its work. We use this class as an example when working to attract other professors to our collections and to encourage professors like Spinks, Good, and Wingerd and their students to contribute blog posts on their research experiences (no takers yet, but many expressed interest). Most importantly, the students involved in hands-on special collections research can become advocates for us. They might return to TC for other classes—without prompting!—and they understand the value and privilege of being able to use rare and unique materials. When considering potential faculty partners, resist the temptation to work only with history professors—as illustrated in this article, TC enjoys working with modern foreign languages, education, and other programs. Primary resource projects raise awareness with students (and faculty) about the existence and value of special collections and how they can be a part of their professional toolkits.
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