Better Teaching with Rare Materials: Critical Approaches

Current Faculty: Michaela Ullmann


College and university faculty and library collections all over the U.S. have introduced new approaches to primary source and archival literacy instruction. Librarians and archivists have moved away from passive modes of instruction to designs that use immersive, integrative, collaborative, and active-learning elements. Likewise, primary source literacy instruction not only takes place in academic and special collections settings, but is being implemented in public, school, and special libraries. In partnership with teaching faculty, librarians and archivists of all types now play an active role in designing pedagogy featuring in-class activities that teach students archival literacy, general information literacy skills, critical skills, and paleography, among other skills for the 21st century student.

On top of this, Critical Pedagogy and Critical Librarianship (#critlib) has become an integral part of both rare materials theory and praxis. As such, this course will also provide a broad overview of the theories and methods of critical pedagogy and unpack how libraries are inextricably linked to political, economic, and social forces. The course will discuss the theories that underpin this movement (postcolonial, critical race, LGBTQ+, feminist theories, among others), and the implementation of the practice of these theories within library environments, classrooms, and community spaces.

Since this course takes place in times of remote teaching due to Covid19, the instructor will, throughout the course, discuss pedagogy and tools for teaching primary source literacy online to better prepare participants for the challenges we currently face and to enable them to provide meaningful and effective primary source literacy, synchronously and asynchronously. Online teaching skills are expected to be useful even when we return to in-person instruction. Using remote teaching methods for large enrollment classes or for balancing preservation and access, for example, has been shown to be fruitful.

Using case study projects, participants will gain a sense of how rare book and archives repositories have partnered with faculty in innovative ways. Guest faculty speakers will broaden our conversations, focusing on how librarians can best support their instructional efforts – in the physical space and online. Class participants will be asked to bring along instructional exemplars from their home institutions to workshop in a group setting, or if they are not yet in the profession, to imagine a project that would involve faculty collaboration in some substantive way.

This course is designed to be collaborative in nature and a venue for generating new ideas and to imagine solutions to often-encountered problems in public services and instructional outreach.

Components of the syllabus for the course include:

  • Infrastructure & General Management for building and sustaining a successful instruction program
  • Introduction to Special Collections and Critical Pedagogy
  • Discussion of critical theory and praxis models
  • Establishing meaningful collaboration with librarians, archivists, and teaching faculty
  • Introduction to Curriculum Mapping and syllabus planning
  • Instructional tools (LibGuides, flipped classroom, quizzes, hands-on activities, video capture)
  • Instruction Tools and best practices for online teaching (synchronous & asynchronous)
  • Select digital scholarship tools (Omeka, GIS mapping, Scalar)
  • Professional instructional and literacy best practices and standards (including RBMS and ALA)
  • Establishment & assessment of learning outcomes
  • Virtual Field trips
  • Guest Speakers from the field of Primary Source Literacy
  • Panel of instructors who teach courses with embedded primary source literacy

We will discuss digital assets, platforms, and examples of projects using online collections, as well as ways of working with physical items in the classroom yet creating assignments or exhibits that use photography or scanning to transport these materials into the digital world. Traditional in-person methods of outreach will also be discussed. Participants will be introduced to a variety of digital initiatives using rare books and/or archives and will learn which tools they can easily use for their own teaching.

In order to reduce “screen time”, the course will feature frequent breaks, flipped classroom, and asynchronous elements during which participants will work on projects by themselves and/or in groups “off screen” and return to the online classroom for discussions and/or presentations.

Learning outcomes:

Participants will

  • Be able to define and implement the basics for a well-functioning instruction program for primary sources literacy;
  • Understand & apply key terms, concepts, models, and theories related to the critical pedagogy, including how critical approaches intersect with professional functions, including outreach and instruction;
  • Understand the key role libraries play in supporting diversity throughout society;
  • Return to their institutions with tools and pedagogy to take primary source literacy online in synchronous and asynchronous environments;
  • Have experienced hands on some of the techniques used to make teaching in an online environments effective and successful, and will be equipped to define changes that need to be made to their previous lesson plans in order to deliver content online;
  • Articulate the ethical implications of the work of librarianship and the means by which these activities can contribute to a more just society;
  • Leave the course with an understanding, the tools, and the confidence to transform their instructional approach while creating less work for themselves;
  • Gain a better understanding of the partnership between teaching faculty and Special Collections librarian or archivist and the roles each plays in it;
  • Gain a basic foundation in digital initiatives that use primary source materials and with selected basic tools they can use to teach primary sources literacy in the digital arena;
  • Workshop individual projects to implement at their home institutions.

Better Teaching with Rare Materials | Critical Approaches: 2020 (virtual), 2021

Years Taught under the title Better Teaching with Rare Materials: 2016, 2018, 2019