Bringing students to the archives offers opportunities for true partnership between instructors and archives staff. Archives staff bring essential expertise to the collaboration. They often have more experience teaching document analysis to a diverse group of students, they may be content experts in topics related to the institution’s collection focus, and they certainly have a deep knowledge about their collections and how to use them.
We have found that meeting at least once in person at the archives allows for deeper conversation about the objectives and agenda for the visit. It also allows the archives staff and the instructor to do a walk-through of the space in which the class visit will take place. During this time, discuss important logistics such as which documents will be used, how the materials will be set up, where students will sit during introductions and wrap up, and more.
When you first get to together to discuss a collaboration, there will be a sort of dance. The instructor will ask, “What do you have?” The archivist will respond, “What do you want?” And a bit of back-and-forth will ensue. This process often works most efficiently when the instructor can clearly articulate their objectives for the visit.
Archives staff should be able to instruct the teacher on how to search the collections. Staff should also be prepared to suggest collections related to the topic of study, and even individual items that are particularly useful teaching documents. Next steps may involve looking at the collections together, or setting a research appointment for the instructor to dig deeper.
The biggest challenge is often focusing in on a small number of documents when so many large collections look interesting.
From pulling and preparing the documents to setting up the room, archives staff do a great deal of prep work before a class even sets foot in the library. As such, they should feel empowered to set clear deadlines for collaborating faculty. We requested document lists, visit agendas, and visit objectives from faculty 3 weeks before each class visit, and collaborating faculty were always respectful of that deadline.
Although it can be hard, sometimes if a faculty member approaches at too late a date, it is best to say, “great idea, let’s do it next term.” Students do not benefit from frazzled staff or ill-prepared visits.
Because archives staff serve as co-facilitators during the visit, they should also feel comfortable asking for syllabi, reading lists, in-archives handouts, and other course material that will help them prepare to interact with the students.
Archives staff should also be cognizant that the scheduling needs of college instructors often differ from those of K-12 teachers. Because college courses meet at set times only 1 – 3 times a week, and because they do not fit into consistent time slots, they can be more challenging to schedule than primary and secondary school field trips. Fewer class meetings also means that professors are using up a larger proportion of their time with students in the archives visit. Canceling an archives visit can often throw a wrench into a professor’s semester-long schedule.
Perhaps most importantly, collaboration brings opportunities for archives staff and teachers, in 2 different but related fields, to better understand each other’s skills and expertise.
Julie Golia and Robin M. Katz, “Creating Meaningful Faculty-Staff Collaboration,” TeachArchives.org, accessed [insert date here], http://wwww.teacharchives.org/articles/faculty-staff-collaboration/.