Critical Special Collections Pedagogy

Course Information

Instructor: Michaela Ullmann
Location: UCLA / Los Angeles
Mode: In-person
Dates: July 31 – August 4, 2023
Tuition: $1200.00


Colleges, universities, public schools, community archives, and special libraries all over the U.S. have successfully introduced immersive, integrative, collaborative, and active-learning elements into primary source literacy instruction over the past decade. In partnership with teaching faculty, librarians and archivists now play an active role in designing pedagogy featuring in-class activities that teach students archival literacy, information literacy skills, critical thinking skills, and paleography, among other skills for the 21st century student. This course will focus on developing, integrating, teaching, and advocating for robust primary source literacy instruction.

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, and the implementation of the practice of these theories within library environments, classrooms, and community spaces.

Throughout the course, we will also discuss pedagogy and tools for teaching primary source literacy online and hybrid to assist participants with developing and delivering meaningful and effective primary source literacy, synchronously and asynchronously, online and in-person. Online teaching skills are most likely here to stay in some capacity, and using remote teaching methods for large enrollment classes or for balancing preservation and access, for example, has been shown to be fruitful. Integrating digital projects and an introduction to digital teaching tools will be another element of the syllabus for this course.

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 examples 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
  • Overview of useful tools for instruction and their application
  • Best practices for online teaching (synchronous & asynchronous)
  • Overview & introduction of select digital scholarship tools
  • Best practices and standards (including RBMS and ALA)
  • Establishment & assessment of learning outcomes
  • Field trips
  • Guest Speakers from the field of Primary Source Literacy and Critical Librarianship
  • Panel of instructors who teach courses with embedded primary source literacy

In order to reduce “lecture” time and to create a more vibrant learning environment, the course will feature frequent breaks, flipped classroom, and workshopping during which participants will work on projects by themselves and/or in groups and return to the 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.





Completion of this course helps to meet requirements for one of the following certificate requirements:

  • 1 of 3 elective credit courses for Certificate in Rare Books and Manuscripts, or
  • a Pedagogy or Applied course for Certificate in Librarianship, Activism, and Justice
  • 1 of 2 elective credit courses for Certificate in Librarianship, Activism, and Justice

Previous course titles:

Teaching in Special Collections: Creating Pedagogy & Space for Critical, Effective, and Inclusive Primary Source Literacy Instruction, 2022

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

Better Teaching with Rare Materials: 2016, 2018, 2019