Sunday, October 7, 2012

Archives Month: Teach the Value of Archives to the Young

A full understanding of the differences between primary and secondary sources should be a priority for our society. Misinformation, propaganda, looking forward without understanding where we've been and how we got here...these are all things that threaten the health of culture, civil discourse, and cooperation. Helping individuals understand how archives chart our development as a civilization within overlapping communities leads to a better understanding of self and others. It leads to a thoughtful populace and a more productive conversation that can help all of us achieve our goals as good citizens.

October is Archives Month. This annual celebration of primary source materials highlights the work of archives and archivists. October is a perfect time to bring out hidden collections, explain archival methods, and promote the archivists' strong sense of purpose to diverse audiences. It is a time to connect our work to individuals and communities so they better understand the archivists' role and can apply it to their lives. In a school setting, highlighting archives can help students develop a deeper appreciation for history.  Archives Month can help our students develop a better understanding of knowledge in general, so that they may become better consumers and users of information.

You don't need to be an archivist to start these efforts. School librarians are perfect to lead the charge. Talk to professional archivists in the community to guide you, if necessary. Archivists have an interest in documenting many different communities and should be happy to help! (I can, and have, written whole blog posts and a book on this subject so I won't go in depth here. See Cultural Heritage Collaborators: A Manual for Community Documentation if you want to learn more about documenting communities and the roles of various community members in doing so.)

In my high school library, I guided staff and volunteers to create a display that includes information about what archives are, how they achieve their goals, and what archives we have related to our school community. We have formed a Library Archives Committee with a group of students who are interested in caring for our school's history. Our initial goal will be to find materials related to the history of our school, make collection development and community documentation plans, and begin collecting and organizing materials. I see oral histories in our future (I hope.) I imagine using materials from our archives to support class lessons in all fields. Archives can provide new close reading materials to support common core objectives. Archives can help build collaboratives in which other repositories in town see the school community as a partner in larger community efforts. Archives will provide promotional materials to support our teams and other school interests. They will support lessons in deciphering materials to better understand that some of the things that people call "facts" are not always based in truth and that knowledge often has shades of gray.

Here are some tips to get you started. How to start a school archives:
  1. Form a committee. (I introduced the topic of archives to all freshmen in an introduction to information class that I designed. The class dovetailed with Trails Nine assessment testing.) I like the idea of having your students make up your committee. This will be a great learning experience for them!
  2. Pick a date and time when most of your committee can get together. Try a few times - after school, before school and during lunch periods on different days. - to accommodate anyone interested in learning more.
  3. In an initial meeting, get students thinking about what aspects of their school experience they want to share. Share materials that other generations have left for them. You probably have yearbooks and at least some brochures in your school library. Get students thinking about themselves as part of a timelines of students passing through this school. Talk about the legacy of students and how students help shape what the school is and what it will be for the future. Introduce the idea of "sense of place" and discuss how their lives in the school help develop a school culture.
  4. Brainstorm the different aspects of a typical school day and what activities need to be documented. Explain the idea of a collection development policy and work on one with the students.
  5. Begin announcing what you are doing to the larger school community. Ask teachers and staff to contribute to efforts. (You should be spreading your efforts by word of mouth right from the beginning and hopefully building steam and excitement for the project as you go.) Have the students start talking to teachers and staff about what archival materials might be hidden around our school.
  6. Engage the yearbook staff. Their materials are most often considered the school "archives." They have valuable resources and knowledge and should be a valued part of your team.
  7. Once a solid foundation is formed and the ball gets rolling, introduce the larger community to your archives. Get in touch with the Historical Society to tell them about the project. Get in touch with individuals in the community through social media and student contact (with their parents, clubs in which they already take part, etc.) and tell them about the project. Encourage them to share things they have in their own collections and homes that relate to the school. If they are alums, ask them about their experiences and ask if they have materials related to their time at school.

A school archives can be a very valuable resource.  I look forward to sharing more of this journey with you and will have more tips as this project grows.

See great info on school archives from the National Archives

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