Saturday, May 31, 2014

Artifacts and Information: Crossing into the Sciences

 One of the things I love most about being a librarian is the chance to be in the world of Shakespeare one day and to be exploring Marine animals the next. Usually I only get to do this through research, but yesterday they let me out of the school library to take a field trip. As an archivist who specializes in local history, I had quite a treat as we explored the shores of Rye beach in New Hampshire and took a boat trip off the Isle of Shoals. I took the trip in part to help me better assist students with a big biology research project they do each year. What I discovered is that this trip and project lend themselves to collaboration across multiple disciplines. I plan to inject what I learned into the library work that I do.

I started my day by bringing into school a bird's nest I found while gardening. I had been meaning to bring it in to share for awhile, but I think I finally remembered to actually do it since my head was anticipating a day in nature. I think that most people see birds' nests as part of the field of science. When I think birds nest I think about Audubon's drawings; I think about Wonder cabinets, stuffed birds in libraries that were popular in the nineteenth century, the specimens of birds I first saw at the Vanderbilt Mansion where I volunteered in high school; I think about the birds who frequent my garden who are different year to year ["the cardinals won the prized tree this year for their nest"]; I think of the stories behind the places where these animals go; I think of collecting; I think of the human hand in the natural world. In short, I think history.

The most perfect bird's nest I've ever seen. An outside layer
of flowering grasses, then a layer of leaves, then a layers of
flat wide twigs, then soft, fine grass. I want people to see
the information we can get from nature. I also threw in a little
Twitter bird to get my teacher and student patrons to connect
social media to the idea of the bird.
Doing some surveying work
So, it was a treat to visit the New Hampshire coast - so rich in history and sense of place. Students were brought to different stations to learn math and science concepts. History was popping up everywhere. One station in particular made me interject my librarian thoughts. Older students were teaching younger students about the science at the shore. At the salt marshes, they began talking about a business that had dumped sewage into the habitat years ago. The ecosystem was damaged by the actions of that institution. The students' sentences, so sure about their scientific information, were suddenly punctuated with "I think...this is what I was told...this could possibly have happened." I began thinking about our news database. I began thinking about the Portsmouth Athenaeum not far from where we are. I thought about the Seacoast Science Center that must have information about this event in their archives. 

I interruppted, "Finding out exactly what happened here would make a GREAT research project." They stopped, looked at me, said "Mmmmhmmm," and moved on. As a high school teacher librarian, in a moment like that, all I can hope is that I planted a seed in someone's brain. 

A "purring" fish.  Arawana? I'm not sure of my scientific labeling here
On our trip, I got to play with a vibrating fish, a star fish arm, periwinkles, crabs, rocks and more. These are the "artifacts" of my science colleagues. They collect them like I collect books and archives. They collect nature while I collect man-made material culture. Humans are all collectors, categorizers and information gatherers at heart!
It was seeing the Isles of Shoals  that got my liberal arts side purring. Author Celia Thaxter grew up here. This is where she and my beloved Childe Hassam drew inspiration. This is where Thaxter would bring the plants that she loaded on a small boat in Portsmouth to restock her famed gardens each spring. [see An Island Garden]

As we traveled out to the island, I told some of the students, teachers, and chaperones what I knew about Celia Thaxter. Right in this spot was science, math, history, literature and art rolled up and just waiting for us to explore. So much to see. So much information to take in. So much learning to be done!

I look forward to visiting the Island this summer. It's been calling me for twenty years. It's time to land there. Maybe some of my students' thoughts will follow me there too. Maybe there is another field trip in order.


Many weeks ago I promised a post about the right to copy from archival collections. I will publish that post soon. I have been working hard on it and am backing what I know with research. Copyright is a complicated subject, so I do not want to start people off with basic misinformation. Stay tuned...

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