Denise Monbarren, Special Collections Librarian at The College of Wooster Libraries, presented a concurrent session at the OPAL Conference on using special collections in support of student learning. I was interested in what she had to say, since I had received a request to use materials from our special collections this past Spring to support a class assignment.
Denise gave us many good ideas. She recommended that we understand our special collections strengths and how that matches faculty research interests and courses being taught. She strongly encouraged us to think through preservation issues before having students use materials. A major concern is the handling of materials and the ability to make copies. Denise suggested having two copies of heavily use materials (like yearbooks) and designating one as the one that can be photocopied and used during classes. She also recommended that assignments not require students to use the same item.
She gave some ideas for how to start using special collections to support student learning and also indicated how much time it would take.
Minimal commitment – Show and Tell
Give tours and show some examples. This can be used to introduce students to the idea of primary research. This option works best if you have limited staff.
Limited commitment – Show and Tell and Learn
Give a tour and use examples for hands-on learning to provide context. Denise advised that this be done during one class period and works well for those with limited staff.
Moderate commitment – Show and Tell and Discover
Give a tour and have students come back in groups of 3-4 during the semester to research a specific area of interest. Denise advised that this can be done well if the faculty member gives the students direction and not have every group's assignment due at the same time.
Extreme commitment – Show and Tell and Hope for the Best
Give a tour and allow students to pursue individual research in the collection. Denise shared that in her experience this only works well for motivated upper level students. She advised that it would be difficult with limited staff.
Denise finished by saying that she was more than happy to have anyone come and visit her in Wooster and she would share more of her experiences. Examples of some of the policies she developed can be found on the College of Wooster's Special Collections page.