Monday, December 30, 2013

My Year in Review: A Community Archivist Brings "Community" to Education

My grand experiment. Does an archivist (albeit with a non-traditional archivist path) have something to offer secondary students? Does an archivist offer a unique view and noteworthy skills that others in an educational community don't have, but can benefit from? Does a background in librarianship, museology, and archives provide practical knowledge that can benefit a community learning about information? My year and a half working as a high school information specialist indicates the answer is yes.

What is information? I can continually explore this idea with my high school students and aim to show them that information is everywhere. From the signs we read (or choose not to), to the games we play, to the conversations that we have, we are continually bombarded with information. It is our job as citizens to look for information, to learn to filter it by taking in what may be important, to decipher it, and to make informed decisions. One bit of information relates to another. Historical information that we find in an archives may help us better understand modern information.

What is a community? Communities are built on information. We all have commonalities despite diversity. We must recognize what humans have in common so that we may responsibly improve society. Information about our past, our cultures, our lifestyles, our traditions help build bonds. We can celebrate these connections. Such bonding ties together information and helps us understand the paths we have taken -- how we have gotten here and where we are going.

How do I find information? We all have some understanding of our world. This understanding starts with the community that we know. We use our understanding as a base for discovery. We learn about tools that can lead us to broader ideas. We become adept at using these tools. We use our minds to decipher information and we remain open to allowing our understanding to grow and change, if we find our own base knowledge lacking. Diverse tools help bring us information, but we must be open to finding it. We also must have the patience to make use of the "facts" we find to turn what our brains take in into viable information that can be used.

I started with the premise that I could strengthen the idea of community. This is how I did/do that:

1. Call our common library space "our library" and say that as often as I can

2. Make myself visible throughout the building. The library comes to the people when it can. (I have a colleague who has set up library stations around her school building. I hope to follow her example) I go to classrooms to teach and sit in on lectures. I visit the school store. I carry books. I wheel around a cart decorated with funky birds. I dress up for spirit week. I take pictures of our happenings and invite those taking pictures around the school to share them in the library.

3. Set up a school archives and advertised it. Formed a committee for it. I pull out yearbooks whenever I can to show that we are all indebted to those who came before us. Our archives will be growing.

4. Made a pretty space. Taking pride in a space shows that we are proud of our community. I try to put up posters that reflect us. I invite art students to bring art in. I ask for kids to color pictures and hang them around the room. (Yes, high school student like to color. Don't you?)

5. Offer games. Collaboration on jigsaw puzzles is something I love to see in my... (ahem)... our library. We have legos and Battleship and chess and a whole lot more. We are aiming for a maker space.

6. This is a personal favorite and has not been easy. I ask for students opinions and encourage them to participate. At first, many didn't like me asking questions of them or asking them to do things. Who can blame them? They weren't accustomed to me. But now, many, many, students willingly give me ideas. Some do so without prompting. But most recently, I encouraged our community to make a paper chain that was wrapping its way around the library. I asked student to list all of their favorite books to make the chain grow. "I would like to know your favorite books. If you don't think that you like to read, reach back and try to remember a story from your childhood that brings back good memories." I had one wall to go with one day left to vacation. I begged and pleaded, "C'mon! You must love more books! We only have one wall to go!" One table of students grabbed a pile of colorful slips and they must have written about 50 books on those slips. One of the library assistants brought me a stack. She apparently had told the students to watch the look on my face when she handed it to me and luckily I didn't let them down. "WOOHOO! We did it! Our chain will go around the room. I will try to make sure that we have everyone of our favorite books in this library!" After all, we are a community and all of our books must be represented here - from Everybody Poops to Crime and Punishment
The chain start by the entrance to the library
By my office....
It wraps all the way around the room

The holiday paper chain lists the favorite books of our community members. 
I will count how many books there are and get back to you on that
It ends right beyond our circulation desk, which has the stairway leading into the room
7. Exhibits - From Archives Week to teaming up with a foreign exchange student to make a display about her country. (I also order books about the countries from which our foreign exchange students come and I place them in our collection with a dedication to them in it. After all, they are part of our community too. Once part of our community, always part of our community.)...

8. Events...

And this is where my world is now heading. December was a big event month. I've settled in to know my school and my students. I'm working on curriculum and research teaching ideas with teachers. I feel like I am an accepted part of their community, so now we get creative and build our information circle.

  • We had ethnic food Wednesdays where people of all backgrounds were encouraged to bring in foods that reflected their heritage and the holidays. (taste new things. learn about new cultures)
  • We made paper that will be bound into journals and put out into our town. Local businesses will help encourage residents to write reminiscences of the high school (show the value of the arts in any project. show that our high school is firmly rooted in the local community and that the community values education and its teens. build our archives.
  • We are getting ready to celebrate our 50th anniversary in our current school building. I discovered this anniversary while browsing through the archives and brought it to the attention of the principal. Two years worth of events are in the planning stages. (The paper making event was our kickoff.) The growth of our school archives will be a big part of this push. Collection development and outreach has just begun.
  • We will have a Human Library in April to showcase diverse occupations and the diverse people who choose different career paths.

Those with information and cultural heritage backgrounds have unique expertise that can fit beautifully within an educational community. What I've shared above is just a sample. I have spoken and been interviewed about alternative career paths for archivists. I continue to stretch to learn the ways our professional skills can benefit diverse communities. I encourage others interested in a wholistic view of information to consider opportunities outside the traditional archives arena. This has been an enriching year.

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