Thursday, August 2, 2018

The Value of Museums for Inquiry and Information Literacy

 Last week, I had the opportunity to visit the Shofuso House in Philadelphia. The house was a gift to the United States from Japan in the 1950s. As I listened to the docent speak, I was very conscious about the wide range of information I was receiving and questions that I had about it. I thought about the context of the gift, the considerations the architect made during the design process, the current status of the facility, and numerous other factors about the institution. A museum experience, such as this one, provides a perfect opportunity for us to consider our thinking process, to reflect on how we build knowledge, and to challenge our inquiry skills.

As I explore and teach information literacy, I find myself wondering how others take in information. One can choose to look at the pretty Japanese garden and just enjoy the beauty, for example, but that only scratches the surface -- How big do Koi get? How do they survive the winter? How do they keep that tree pruned? Is a big pruned tree like that called a "Bonsai" tree or is that just little trees? From where did all these visitors here today come? How many gardens in the United States were gifted to us by Japan? How about other nations? Do the United States ever gift gardens to other countries? How do these gardens help us cross cultural boundaries? What does a natural paradise such as this one mean to the citizens of this area?

Objects are underutilized in the classroom to encourage inquiry and I would like that to change. I have written before about the value of objects for education. I have encouraged my museum colleagues to partner with others to introduce their objects to teachers and students, but some of the burden needs to be placed with educators too. Cultural heritage institutions exist, in part, to help you with your mission to educate. Think about the following:
  • What kinds of objects will make your students more curious? 
  • What kinds of questions do you want your kids to ask? 
  • What connections between curriculum and "real world" should your kids be making? 
  • What information links should they be forming to better understand contexts and develop information literacy skills?  
  • What museums are in your area that can help?
School librarians, consider how you can use objects and museums to enhance your information literacy curriculum. How can you use object as a launching point into larger contexts? How can you relate objects to the written word? How can objects enhance the critical thinking skills you teach as an information specialist?

Information literacy involves layers of knowing and inquiry. It is our challenge as educators and keepers of objects to consider these layers, and to get our students/patrons to consider them too.