Saturday, February 23, 2013

Teaching Archives

Twenty young men and women sat giving me their full attention. There was no boredom in their faces. There were no food wrappers rustling. There were no whispers or tired empty stares. I decided to try it. It worked for adult audiences; why shouldn't it work on attentive teens? "Close your eyes...." I smiled, gently. "Go ahead. Everyone do it." And they did.

"Imagine a big circle in the center of your mind. Now see a line running through it. The circle is you. Everything to the left of the circle includes the people who came before you - your parents, your grandparents, your great-grandparents and the communities of societies that came before shift your attention to the right of the circle. Everything on the line to the right of you includes your kids, your grandkids, your nieces and nephews, your friends' kids and all the societies on whom you will have an influence. Everything that you do in your life helps build the future. You have the power to change societies. You are part of the line of history. History is not just about famous people. It is about you. Now open your eyes..." And they did.

...And this wasn't a history class. This was a marketing class. I was teaching social media strategy and using ArchivesInfo as a model. A powerpoint accompanied my talk about blogger, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and the other platforms that I use to promote the work I do. Wrapped up in a talk about marketing my business was the theme of cyber safety. The documentation that one puts on the Internet will be there forever. "Most of the words you put out to the public as a teen will still be visible when you are an adult. I still see things I posted to forums twenty years ago as a young archivist when I look in search engines. Information does not vanish. Be careful what information you put out about yourself."

Of course, the work I do as an archivist is unfamiliar to my students. They know me as Mrs. Mannon, the librarian. Getting into the classroom has given me quite the opportunity to open their eyes to the idea and value of primary sources for documenting history. It is also helping me explain just what information and library science is all about. Information professionals are the keepers of ideas. One must carefully consider the documents that one creates, especially in a digital format, to manage one's identity and reputation.

Opening doors so that students can gain a full understanding of information in all its forms - from print archives to digital media  - is how I perceive my prime role as a high school information specialist. I mentioned in last week's post how I use exhibits to educate with primary source materials. In fact, archives are wrapped into most of the things that I do. Establishing a pen pal program allows me to show students the value of letter writing. Running a slideshow of photos I take of the students happily at work in the library shows how our images can bond communities. I displaying books in a different genre each month and accompany them with information about the people who have influenced that genre. This demonstrates how books are more than just the literature itself, but are also about the people who write it and the communities who are influenced by it - all backed up with primary sources.

Even a short note you write today may remain 100 years from
now among the archives that reflect your life. [This letter is
from the Lawton Collection at the Shirley Historical Society,
Shirley Massachusetts.]
I often hear that kids don't care about the past. They are not interested in their family history. They are not interested in antiques and old things. This is incorrect. It is not that they are not interested. It's that this generation needs to be taught the lessons in a different way. They want glitz. They want you to tie the idea directly to their lives. One can't just say, "this is important so learn it." One must show why it is important and show it over and over again from different angles. Archives are important because they are all around us. They influence everything. They inform us about everything, from the books you love to the messages you send friends to the letters you write to new friends around the world.

I don't think I heard the word "archives" until I was in college. I even worked in an archival setting in high school and I don't think the word archives was used. We need to change that. Today, because of computers, people think of "archives" as old newspapers or other old information found online.  Archives are so much more than that. As a teacher, I use the word as often as I can when describing a whole world of information out there to explore and create. Teaching archives means teaching about that information and how it affects youth today.  Teaching archives means teaching about how ideas across the timeline of history are created and transferred from one generation to the next.


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