We’ve come to that special time of year again. July is just about over, and fall semester will commence in just a few weeks for most colleges and universities in the United States. My place of employment – Kennesaw State University – is no different. We start school this year on August 14. As the Outreach Archivist, I have to start thinking about fall semester way before August. That is because a big part of my position involves instruction and integrating archives and rare books into the curriculum at KSU. In order to do that, I have to have a game plan and be proactive with professors, deans, and department chairs. Today I’ll give you a look into how I implement my instruction game plan for the semester. Ready, set, go!
Strategy #1: Know your ammo
One of the most important parts of preparing for a semester of archival instruction is to know your archival collections. Of course, it’s highly unlikely that one archivist will know every document or record inside of each collection. Mainly, it’s important to have a fair amount of intellectual control over the collections so that you can easily match professors and their courses with relevant archival materials. How do we get to know our collections? Get in them! Have fun with the collections by reviewing their contents, checking their finding aids and metadata, etc. This practice not only helps archivists know collections better, but it also serves as a way to check on collections and ensure that they are still being preserved in the best way possible.
Strategy #2: Know your territory
Are you familiar with the courses being taught at your institution? If not, you need to be! Check the course catalogs, schedule of classes, and resources available via the Registrar’s office to stay up to date on who is teaching what. Make a list of classes that seem to match with collections in your repository (Fun fact: I think a group of archivists are actually considering an app that can do this!), and keep track of the professors teaching these classes. Start brainstorming ways to incorporate archives into these classes, perhaps through instruction sessions, collaborative assignments, research, etc.
Strategy #3: Make your move
Once you have a strong intellectual grasp the courses at your institution and the collections in your repository, it is time to reach out to professors! Now, there is a specific way to do this. You don’t want to do it too early in the summer because most professors are not thinking about fall semester in May or June – much less checking their professional email. You also don’t want to send them emails too late, because once they’ve written their syllabi, they probably won’t want to change it too much. Hence, I recommend contacting professors during the sweet spot which is right about now – late July, when summer classes are over and fall classes are right around the corner. Professors are busy trying to finalize plans for courses and polish drafts of syllabi. This is the perfect time for you, as an archivist, to intercept and tell them what you can bring to the table. Be sure to make it easy on them! One of the things I like to do is simply ask professors to email me a copy of their syllabus. Then, I play matchmaker between their syllabus and the collections we have in the archives. I offer to develop assignments, handle the instruction sessions, provide research appointments, etc. As much as professors enjoy teaching, they are very busy people and won’t want to make extra work for themselves. Hence, this is your time to shine! Show them how creative you can be and why archivists are truly indespensible.
I hope these strategies are helpful to you! Teaching with primary sources is such an important part of archival work. I am extremely passionate about this subject, which is why I am very excited to announce that I have recently been appointed as co-chair of the Teaching with Primary Sources Committee within the Society of American Archivists. This role will truly expand my understanding of archival instruction for all age groups. I look forward to sharing my knowledge with you all!
Here are a few essential titles and resources about teaching with primary sources. . .
Teaching with Primary sources edited by Christopher J. Prom and Lisa Janicke Hinchliffe (https://saa.archivists.org/store/teaching-with-primary-sources/5250/)
Educational Programs: Innovative Practices for Archives and Special Collections edited by Kate Theimer (https://rowman.com/ISBN/9781442249523/Educational-Programs-Innovative-Practices-for-Archives-and-Special-Collections)
Past or Portal? Enhancing Undergraduate Learning through Special Collections and Archives edited by Eleanor Mitchell, Peggy Seiden, and Suzy Taraba (http://www.acrl.ala.org/acrlinsider/archives/5310)