Collaborating to redefine resources: institutions, research, and experiential learning

A school library is not only what it holds, but how far it can reach. It would be too simplistic to define a library’s bounds only by its print collection, no matter how tempting to vaunt the sheer number of volumes at our students’ fingertips.

School librarians know that this alone is insufficient to support rigorous research and develop information literacies for the 21st century. We invest in digital tools and databases. We challenge students to develop robust study habits. We also curate open and reliable resources online. At the same time, it is also important to recognize institutions as resources and work to develop relationships and make these resources available to our students, as well.

Recently, I wrote about the improvisatory spirit required for a school librarian to do good work. By following the ethos of Yes, And a school librarian supports teachers’ ideas and helps push further. Deb Schiano noted that Yes, And must extend into implementation; school librarian’s don’t “bail mid-scene.”

My adventures with Yes, And recently found me driving students to ONE National Gay & Lesbian Archives at USC, the Watts Towers, as well as the Honnold/Mudd Library at the Claremont Colleges. Each trip was designed to support student research in new Advanced Studies electives in the humanities at our school.

These trips developed through purposeful collaboration. They were developed in conjunction with the Director of Experiential Learning, the Dean of Faculty, humanities teachers, as well as the students themselves.

In planning for student research projects, we found that although our school library’s collection returned good results, we needed the students to push further.

At the ONE National Gay & Lesbian Archives at USC, our researcher was able to find a trove of primary sources. She described the thrill of opening the box, simply seeing the facsimile with the information she needed, then turning the page and encountering the actual document itself. It crackled in her hands, the yellow pages preserved by caring custodians.

At the Watts Towers, another student grappled with race, place, history, and narrative. This student was admittedly struggling to find suitable sources to build his own archive about the Watts Riots. We were able to see an art exhibit featuring the work of Carlos Spivey, the artist-in-residence at the Watts Towers Art Center. Spivey works in an impressive amalgam of media to represent vibrant and heroic images of African American people. We even had the fortune to meet him. In the back of the arts center was a poster advertising a symposium about the 50th anniversary of the Watts Revolt, a linguistic distinction our researcher hadn’t encountered before. This distinction gave him pause, and it offered clues as to how to move his research forward.

At the Harvey/Mudd Library at the Claremont Colleges, students found print resources related to European imperialism in Africa. Even in their specialized lines of inquiry, the stacks held many more resources than our library would be able to manage. Furthermore, the students got a taste of doing work in a collegiate setting, one distinctly different from work in a high-school library. That is, they took their place amongst the graduate and undergraduate students who were intensely invested in study.

These are the first trips out and we plan to do more in the future. It takes a lot of preparation to make sure students are able to take advantage of the independent time in a new place. It also takes a lot of time for teachers to be able to scout out the locations and make sure that they can serve as guides when necessary. It also takes time to drive them there–but imagine the possibilities of a reference interview over the course of a one-hour car drive. It becomes more relaxed and conversational.

I was also struck by how accessible these institutions were. That is, they all have hours open to the public and it took relatively little coordination to gain access to them. I am excited to have this experience under my belt to help expand our school’s sense of resources and to collaborate on future adventures for our students.

How are you partnering with outside institutions to extend the reach of your library? Leave examples in the comments.


Author: Mark Dzula

Categories: Blog Topics, Community/Teacher Collaboration, Student Engagement/ Teaching Models

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