Tuesday, April 2, 2013

High School Archives as Independent Study

This is my second semester as a school librarian. With the third quarter coming to a close, I am happy to share one of this year's newest experiences, which has involved offering "directed study" to a few individual students. I outlined a plan for my school to have me teach students about library and information science in the areas of collection development, Internet resources, exhibits and programming or archives. To take my directed study, students must write a plan that focuses on one of these areas. This post, because of the nature of this blog, focuses on the archives option.

One student is working with me to explore the history of our school and is working on a project to jump start our school archives. In anticipation of the 50th anniversary of our school building, the student began working to compare students from the 60s with students today. Examining yearbooks, she listed areas of interest to teens, including such activities as sports, clubs, and studied subjects, noting differences between students "then" and students "now."

The project has grown and fleshed out in the past two months. We recently took a short field trip to the local historical society to check out the resources they have related to school history in our town. The student is now planning on a time line that she hopes to turn into a mural, showing milestones in our community story. The student has also begun helping me search for information about a school time capsule that is rumored to have been installed when the building was erected.

In the meantime, a teacher has donated copies of his photographs of school events to our archives. Slowly, word of our efforts is getting out. The library staff has done a couple of displays that have included archival material. I've begun taking my own photos of events in the library that we display on a continual slideshow on the library's television. These images will be added to our archives. The school information center will continue to work with the local historical society to build stronger local archives related to our history. I have offered to digitize their images related to school history so that we may keep copies on school premises for learning purposes. We are in discussions with the high school class of 1968 to complete some oral histories with them.  

I am offering copies of diary pages and other interesting personal papers I have collected over the years from outside sources to assist teachers with their lessons. Most recently, a teacher mentioned beginning a unit on the Industrial Revolution and I told her of my Waltham experience and how I can provide interesting stories and materials related to my work in the city where the American Industrial Revolution began. I hope that exposure to archives in the classroom will help make history come alive. I also know that introducing these materials will give our students a greater understanding of different types of information and the differences between primary and secondary sources. Perhaps tying archives directly to the curriculum will encourage even more students to pursue independent study in the archives field.

In my own life, I have found that my independent studies have been a good anchor for my interests and general education. They have allowed me to explore core topics, giving them a twist that best suits my personality. Independent studies in the a few different areas challenged me intellectually and creatively. Independent study has allowed me to flesh out the context of the subjects I studied. It allowed me to better define the purpose and value of my education through a personalized lens. [The most memorable independent study I did was as an undergraduate. I spent 1 1/2 years studying gravestone iconography, which gave  me a better understanding of history, art, cultural identity, religion, business, and more. The work culminated in a trip from New England to California to speak in an undergraduate research conference at CalTech University - my first public speaking engagement. In high school, I was lucky enough to have an independent study in the arts, that helped set me up for my future degree in art history.]

Exposure to archives should begin earlier than we have traditionally provided it in the United States. It is imperative as we move more into a digital world that students have a solid understanding of materials that are produced close to events as opposed to less solid and reliable sources. Students tend to believe what they see on the Internet. A solid understanding of provenance is very important to overcome this naivete. Before the line between primary and secondary sources fully blurs, we need to set up methods to make distinctions so that people better understand and examine the materials that provide them information. Directed study in archives has provided one way to capture a student's interest and to prepare her to better evaluate the world around her.

Give a student a thread and let them work to unravel the sweater. Let a student find one thing of interest that leads them to another jewel of information, and then another. Let the librarian be the guide to a path of learning that puts a student at the center. Let her understand that information swirls all around us and it is up to us to take it in, organize it, seek context, and connect thoughts that lead us to bigger and better ideas.

1 comment:

  1. Melissa this is wonderful. I'm so glad to hear that you are offering the students such a rich independent study opportunity AND that the your influence is spreading around the school. Bravo.