Getting Classes and Teachers Into the Library


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Getting classes into the library takes works on the part of both librarians and teachers. It requires enticements for the class. Teachers need to show flexibility as to what can happen on a class visit or assignment. Ultimately great things can happen when the class visits.

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  • Legal notice: Images are from either Wikimedia Commons or New York Public Library. Those from the New York Public Library are copyrighted by the New York Public Library and are not to be used without written permission.I’m in a different situation from my colleagues:
  • I work in a public library--the New York Public Library. We don’t have the benefit of a guaranteed flow of students entering our reading rooms. We do have some classes coming into the library, often visiting once a semester for introductory “Get to know your library” sessions.
  • This is especially true for those of us who work in specialized libraries, such as the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts. In this day and age, when newspaper and magazine reporters love to forecast the impending demise of the physical library, we have plenty of users who view unique materials that will probably be never digitized in our lifetimes, because of their specialized interest, and because of excessively lengthy copyright protection. Despite being a world-famous institution with a notable reputation, we have to ask,solicit and then hope that teachers will want to collaborate with us. What are the obstacles to having classes meet inside and take advantage of the library? One hurdle is making class time for the visit.
  • A teacher will have their syllabus carefully constructed well in advance. It may be a syllabus that has worked for years, and to replace a carefully positioned class with a library visit will upset the class sequence and organic nature of the course.Another hurdle is the physical layout of the library.
  • Many students and teachers go to a library with the expectation of being able to browse the stacks. But the research centers of the New York Public Library (as well as many other institutions) have closed stacks. Patrons are not allowed to browse the shelves and must browse the catalog instead. This is particularly challenging for a library (like ours) that does not use the Library of Congress classmark system but files materials in order of acquisition. Our library users must depend on subject headings -- and many librarians will tell you that most patrons don’t bother to spend time understanding how subject headings work. (They mistakenly think subject headings are keywords.)Yet another hurdle is
  • the unwritten rule of library help. There are three levels of assistance library patrons undergo when they need library help. First, they speak to friends and acquaintances. Second, they talk to complete strangers they find in the library. But the very LAST person they ask
  • is the librarian. This behavioral characteristic is so well-known that it was featured in literature even when I attended library school 25 years ago. Knowing this, I generally start with the point of view that teachers will rarely come to us; WE must be the ones to reach out to teachers, make them feel welcomed, know that we want them, and invite them to hold classes in the library.What can I offer?
  • At the most basic, I can offer a hands-on experience of viewing unique materials. Why just talk about a document in a classroom...when instead, you can let your class experience history and knowledge by seeing, touching, and even smelling the document with their own senses?
  • Beyond that, I tell teachers and students, that there are so many things in the library, that it is only the limits of their own knowledge and imagination that holds them back from seeing and absorbing all that a library can offer. Particularly with large research libraries, there are always many thousands of items that are not listed in the online catalog. The only people who know what there is and how to retrieve it--are the librarians.What are the advantages of bringing students in the library? It’s more than classes with a different setting. Libraries and librarians can provide training that is beneficial, even necessary for students, but which is not a priority in most classrooms.How many of you teach...
  • Zotero as part of your classes? Zotero, CiteULike, Mendeley, etc. - all of them are just a few of the many software packages available for bibliographic management.
  • What about social bookmarking? Delicious, Diigo, Bloglines, Pearltrees, etc. are a few of the many tools that students NEED to learn about. Do you teach these in your classes?
  • What about newly appearing electronic resources? Imagine a teacher has been using a textbook for years because it quotes what they deem is the perfect article about the American Civil War. One year, an online archive of newspapers from the time of the Civil War becomes available. Is that teacher still going to use the same article in the textbook? Or will they consider finding it or an equivalent article in the online archive, allowing the students the opportunity to browse other contemporaneous newspapers articles? Will the teacher recognize that an online archive of articles might be a useful resource for the class to learn about for itself, rather than confine the course readings to the limitations of a textbook? Electronic resources are tools. I doubt whether every librarian is familiar with every tool listed on the library’s website But they probably will be familiar with those that are most used. (At the New York Public Library, currently we have 713 such electronic resources, but many of those are bundled packages of resources, meaning that the total is closer to 1,000 electronic resources.)How are you going to teach your students about
  • bamboo dirt? (Wait for laughs from audience.) Some people know this is not the Bamboo Dirt I mean…..Who knows what is the real BamboDiRT?
  • THIS is Bamboo DiRT - a registry of tools involved with the digital humanities. How many professors have the time to systematically explore, investigate and play with more than a handful of these tools? At the most recent meeting of the American Library Association’s digital humanities discussion group, people suggested that librarians systematically go through as many tools as possible to learn how to use them, and what they can do. Indeed, librarians are often brought in to assist on digital humanities projects.And what about this?
  • How many teachers teach practical matters about copyright? Do all your students know how much they legally can copy of: An article or a book? A visual image? A musical score? A sound recording made before or after 1972? A video? The guidelines concerning fair use copying for each of these formats is different! Do students know and understand the criteria for fair use? Do students know that it’s almost impossible to own an ebook that you purchase?
  • What about this? Do your students know the variety of options provided by Creative Commons?Who other than librarians are best positioned to teach students about copyright and licensing?So I suggest the following:
  • Don’t think of a library solely as a service stop where the librarians are the technicians, performing services, training you in using tools, and dispensing information.
  • Rather, think of the library and its staff as a place where you create relationships. You create relationships with a library’s contents, with other researchers, and most importantly, you create relationships with the librarians. As a teacher, your responsibility is not only to draw the best out of your students. It is also to foster relationships that will enhance the learning that goes on inside and outside of your classroom.
  • Befriend the librarians in your school, public library or archive where you want your students to discover and interact with its contents. Invite library staff out for lunch. Find out what are their their interests and specialties. Do they have special or unusual knowledge? Do they know about particular topics or even trivia that could relate to your classes? As you get to know them, make sure they get to know you. Tell them your interests. Tell them the parameters of your classes. Show them your flexibility in adapting your syllabus to mesh with the strengths of the library.
  • Organizing an open house with the library for students and faculty can be a great way to get the campus population into the library. This is particularly true of those inner sanctums which students or faculty might fear, such as the Special Collections room or other specialized collections. By showing that the library is also a social place you can start to pull down hurdles. Let me tell give you an example from personal experience. In addition to being a librarian, I’ve also been an adjunct for many years. During my time teaching I’ve developed friendships with the other professors in my university, including the music history professor. At one point I suggested he bring his class to the library. Since taking up my offer; he’s been doing it for a couple of years with different kinds of classes.The most recent instance occurred this past spring. My colleague said to me “I want to bring my class devoted to Johann Sebastian Bach to the library.” “Great!” I said, and asked him what he wanted to cover. He said: “Anything you want.” Even when tried to pin him down to a particular focus, he said to me: “Whatever you want! Show us things that you like and that you can talk about.” So I brought out a whole bunch of things which I thought were interesting. I didn’t clear them in advance with my colleague -- hetrusted me to show things that would arouse the class’s interest. When it came time for the class, he had plenty of things to say--extemporaneously--about the materials I had brought out -- books and scores he had not previously seen, talking about how to view them, understanding their significance on their own and in connection to Bach and how the materials related to what they had been studying.
  • The library setting provides a great opportunity to be able to instruct students on how to use materials that might be difficult to acquire for a classroom. In my colleague’s class devoted manuscript study, the students had already learned about the historical and technical aspects of paper production and watermarks. But they had not had the experience of actually handling 300-year-old documents and hunting for the watermarks. Here, my colleague is showing the class how to carefully look for watermarks in an 18th century manuscript.
  • Of course, it’s a great thrill for the students when they are able to find, see, and describe the watermark. It can serve as their “aha!” moment.
  • Unexpected things can happen in a class. I brought out an 18th-century manuscript of tablature. Tablature is the notation used by the ancestors of the guitar and lute. Often tablature was not standardized but varied from region to region, and composer to composer. In a case of serendipity, in the class was a student who specialized in historical lute performance. He was able to explain to the rest of the class unusual notational features and performance issues that he saw in the manuscript, creating a unique moment of learning. The class-in-a-library meeting provided him with the opportunity to address the class and reveal his specialized knowledge.
  • It’s hard for me not to try to impress the students. Given the realization that students usually don’t have a chance to see rare manuscripts until they are seasoned scholars (if they succeed in attaining that goal), I always try to bring out something that will dazzle and wow them. In this case, I brought out Bach’s own manuscript to his Cantata no. 97, “In allenmeinemTaten” which had the class awestruck and gazing at it for a long time.
  • When it’s possible to schedule a class visit on a significant day, the session can take on added meaning. I had the good fortune to have a class scheduled on November 12, 2010. That was the day designated by the Society of American Archivists to be their annual “Follow An Archive Day.” In order to raise awareness of archives and the people who work and research in them, the Society of American Archivists designates one day a year to allow all those involved with archives to share their activities. People publicize their work and research through, blogs, Twitter, Facebook, and many other kinds of social media. Since this class met on that day, I was able to tell them that I was intending to publicize their visit through social media. (Here a class from the Juilliard School is looking at manuscripts by the composer John Cage.)And speaking of archives…
  • How many of you teach archival theory and practice in your classes?Many researchers think of archives as just unorganized lettres and drafts of books. But to experienced archival researchers, archives are organic materials where the value is NOT JUST on the content, but also on the context and interrelatedness of the materials found within the collection. How do students learn about how to find and use an archival collection? How do they go about understanding its structure and organization, particularly when each archival collection presents different problems?
  • One of the results of contact between a public library and schools is that I offer internships. Occasionally I getrequests from students wanting to experience an internship. In this case, this was an intern attending school in Illinois. Because she wanted to supplement what she was learning in school, she contacted me and arranged to spend her week-long spring break working at the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, rather than relaxing at home working on assignments. She was not concerned with getting credit for the experience. She was more concerned with increasing her skills and knowledge, and gaining actual experience from working with archival collections. She found being immersed in an archival environment a very rewarding experience. So to conclude, let me encourage all of you to create relationships with libraries and library staff--relationships that will lead not just to library visits, but to collaborations, and a recognition of the library not just as a repository of books and magazines,
  • but as a exciting space for discovery and learning. Once you recognize the library as this kind of social space, I hope that each of your students will have their own “aha!” moment and reach that point where their own “sparks of knowledge” coalesce into a broader understanding and respect for history and learning in general.
  • Thank you!
  • Getting Classes and Teachers Into the Library

    1. 1. Getting Classes and Teachers Into the library • • • • Bob Kosovsky -- -- @kos2 New York Public Library – Music Division American History Association January 3, 2014
    2. 2. Yellow stacks at the National Archives, Washington D.C.
    3. 3. The last person to ask
    4. 4. Bamboo dirt?
    5. 5. Student reception at the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts ©New York Public Library
    6. 6. Searching for watermarks
    7. 7. Watermark found!
    8. 8. Awe-struck students looking at a manuscript by J.S. Bach
    9. 9. #Follow An Archive Day November 12, 2010 8 ©New York Public Library
    10. 10. ©New York Public Library
    11. 11. Student intern working on an archival collection
    12. 12. THANK YOU! @kos