Saturday, January 5, 2013

Young Adults, Sense of Place and Archives

ArchivesInfo has always promoted the idea that archives provide a foundation for building a sense of community. Using information as a resource for social connections and understanding can be applied in any environment. My school experience is a reflection of this in action.

I spent much of the first term as the new information specialist at a local high school, building a sense of place. Sense of place does not always come naturally. Sometimes it needs to be molded and focused, and cultivated to reflect this idea. To begin to create that feeling in our library, I've re-arranged the room a bit; I've hung posters and created exhibits aiming to get students to think about our library as the heart of our community; And, of course, I've started a school Archives.

There is A LOT going on in this very busy environment at the physical center of the school. We are building tech opportunities as well as focusing on the "traditional." But my focus here is on building a sense of place -- with a goal to make the physical center the metaphorical heart of our education.We aim to create a comfortable, enriching environment. This, I believe, adds to a feeling of community and certainly to the sense of place. In addition to trying to provide educational opportunities in diverse forms all around our room, we fill our display cases each month with exhibits focused on building community.  (Let me know if anyone is interested in the "educational opportunities" aspect and I can talk more about that specifically in a future post.)
  • In September our first exhibit involved using mind-mapping to envision the library as a community space. 
  • In October, we built an exhibit about Archives Month that introduced the idea of school archives. 
  • In November, we focused on food traditions and encouraged students to dig up their own food memories and recipes. 
  • In December we introduced a pen pal project with the Teen Center in Botswana where we will be connecting our community with one in Africa to explore a different culture and get to know people from across the world. 
  • We are now focused on our favorite books. In December we encouraged teachers and students to create a holiday chain that listed their favorites. I've made a list of them, have ordered ones we don't have here, and made an exhibit with the help of my staff. With the help of this current project, and through surveys and collection development, we have added materials for all levels of library users. We are aiming for diverse educational resources to tap the needs, and spark the interests, of as many students as possible.
We aim to reflect the soul of our community and that's where the archives really shine. An archives committee, currently made up of just a couple of students and staff, is working to build a collection that focuses on our building. The building was constructed in 1965, so we are preparing for a 50th anniversary celebration. We are collaborating with the local historical society and have visited their collections to get a sense of where we, as a school community, fit in our larger town community. I'm trying to have students think of our school as just one ring among all the communities in which they participate. An alum contacted me about a blogging project his graduating class is building. We will be reaching out to them. We plan to conduct oral histories and ask the people in the town about their memories of the school and to see if they have materials related to the high school's place in the community. I hope that the project will spread to other schools as well and I will meet regularly with other school librarians to tie our respective educational communities together on an informational resource / sense of place level.

I have a sign on my office door that says, "Libraries are in the curiosity business." I hope that when one enters a space encouraging exploration that also reflects ties to the past -- a place that shows its roots AND a forward movement -- that one feels energized. I leave little "sparks" around the library with the hope that I can ignite students' interests, whatever they might be. I aim show them that no matter the subject in which they have an interest, there are learning opportunities to grasp. I want students to remember this place as one where they felt safe and free to learn beyond the classroom and that their experiences here will help them build an enriching life where they recognize opportunities for lifelong learning. The long-range plan is coming and this will continually be a work in progress.

1 comment:

  1. Melissa, I think what you are doing in your new setting is beneficial--and so needful!

    I gravitate toward those terms you use, "sense of place" and "sense of community." While I am not in your line of work, it is also my goal to build that sense of community. I work to gain that sense in my own blog, and hope it radiates out in the broader discipline of genealogical research. How wonderful to instill that same purpose in people at this stage in their life where the world lays open before them!