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Christian Dupont's picture

Articles on Special Collections Instructional Outreach and Impact

As you may know, ACRL has commissioned Syracuse University iSchool professor Megan Oakleaf to prepare "a comprehensive review of the quantitative and qualitative literature, methodologies and best practices currently in place for demonstrating the value of academic libraries." The goals for this project providing "academic librarians with a clearer understanding of what research about the performance of academic libraries already exists, where gaps in this research occur, and to identify the most promising best practices and measures correlated to performance," as well as equipping "ACRL members with tools and strategies to demonstrate the value of academic libraries to their institutional leadership."

For details on the project, see:



I have had opportunities to talk with Megan about her project and am helping identify relevant research about special collections and archives at academic institutions. She is particularly interested in identifying studies that provide evidence that special collections contribute to student learning or faculty research or teaching.

Reviewing the tables of contents from RBM and RBML and trolling the Library Literature and Information Science index, I have compiled the list of articles at the end of this message.

Can any of you suggest other articles and studies to add to the list? Have you contributed articles to any local publications or written any internal reports about your engagement with students and faculty that you would be willing to share with Megan? Or do you have some ideas for the kinds of studies (quantitative or qualitative) that you think ought to be done on special collections teaching strategies, understanding that part of her task involves identifying gaps in the literature?

I'm delighted that Megan has shown interest in discussing special collections and archives in her report and see it as an opportunity for us to connect what we do with the mission of our parent institutions.

I look forward to your comments.



Articles on Special Collections Instructional Outreach and Impact

McCoy, Michelle, The Manuscript as Question: Teaching Primary Sources in the Archives—The China Missions Project. College and Research Libraries v. 71 (January 2010) p. 49-62

Davision, S. If We Build It, Will They Come? Strategies for Teaching and Research with Digital Special Collections. RBM v. 10 no. 1 (Spring 2009) p. 37-49

Brannock, J. Exposing Undergraduates to Special Collections through Bibliographic Instruction. Mississippi Libraries v. 72 no. 3 (Fall 2008) p. 54-6

Reynolds, M., et. al., Engaging undergraduates in special collections through English composition: Collaborating for student success. College & Research Libraries News v. 69 no. 6 (June 2008) p. 318-21

Visser, M. Special Collections at ARL Libraries and K-12 Outreach: Current Trends. Journal of Academic Librarianship v. 32 no. 3 (May 2006) p. 313-19

Allison, Anna Elise. Connecting Undergraduates with Primary Sources: A Study of Undergraduate Instruction in Archives, Manuscripts, and Special Collections.  2005. Thesis (MSLS) Univ of NC at Chapel Hill [http://hdl.handle.net/1901/158]

Dietz, Brian J. Getting Undergrads into Archives: Educational Outreach Efforts of University Archives, Manuscript Departments, and Special Collections.  2005. Thesis (MSLS) Univ of NC at Chapel Hill [http://hdl.handle.net/1901/210]

Traister, D. Public Services and Outreach in Rare Book, Manuscript, and Special Collections Libraries. Library Trends v. 52 no. 1 (Summer 2003) p. 87-108

Schmiesing, A., et. al., The Role of Special Collections Departments in Humanities Undergraduate and Graduate Teaching: A Case Study. Portal v. 2 no. 3 (July 2002) p. 465-80

Allen, S. M. Rare books and the college library: current practices in marrying undergraduates to special collections [revision of a paper presented at a symposium in Northampton, Massachusetts, April 1996]. Rare Books & Manuscripts Librarianship v. 13 no. 2 (1999) p. 110-19


Jeffrey Makala's picture

Here are a few more from my files. N.B.: This does not consitute my endorsement of their contents!

Johnson, Greg. "Introducing Undergraduate Students to Archives and Special Collections." College & Undergraduate Libraries 13(2) 2006: 91-100.

Senf, Carol. "Using the University Archives to Demonstrate Real Research." Changing English 12(2) August 2005: 297-307.

Sutton, Shan and Lorrie Knight. "Beyond the Reading Room: Integrating Primary and Secondary Sources in the Library Classroom." Journal of Academic Librarianship 32 (3) May 2006:320-325.


The question of assessment is a perennial one, and I don't believe any of the literature on spcolls instruction - much of which constitutes case studies - adequately takes it on as yet, at least in considering assessment writ large.

As many universities (including my own, this year) require the addition of "learning outcomes" or the equivalent statements to all faculty syllabi, showing that a visit or assignment in a special collections repository or archives fits durectly into a course's goals and outcomes should, if anything, become more easy to prove and able to be included withinin other frameworks of assessment.

But other outcomes are of course less traceable: how well are we building future generations of collectors (donors?), or well-educated citizens concerned with the cultural record, &tc., &tc.




Christian Dupont's picture

Thanks, Jeffrey, for the additional sources, which I'll add to the bibliography I'll be sharing with Megan.

I was struck by your mention of the requirement to include explicit "learning outcomes" to course syllabi. Have you, or do you expect to work with some of your faculty regulars to add develop some outcomes-based learning goals in relation to the instructional sessions you provide them? It would be great if you could share some examples.

Has anyone else reading this threead developed learning outcomes for special collections instruction?

I know that in NY State, for some of our grant-funded outreach projects, we were expected to develop "DBQs" (document-based questions).


Christian Dupont, Burns Librarian and Associate University Librarian for Special Collections, Boston College | https://bc.academia.edu/ChristianDupont

Jeffrey Makala's picture

Hi Christian,

This requirement has only been implemented for the past year at the request of the Provost's Office, as we begin to assemble documents for the university's decennial reaccreditation. So it's still a bit early for me to report, but yes, I have thought about and had some preliminary conversations on the subject.

We are increasingly thinking about assessment in every aspect of our working lives here, so in that vein, yes, I think I'd like to be able to articulate some goals and outcomes to come out of our instruction programs via faculty syllabi. In the best cases, we (teaching faculty and library faculty) make each other look good, so why not?

If I had to articulate a set of leaning outcomes, for the one-visit class, it may be more "squishy," and they might likely take the form of a set of goals and objectives similar to those found in a K-12 course unit, i.e. if I had to articulate exactly what I wanted students to take away from their visit to our departent.

But for a class that uses our collections on reserve for an assignment, exam, or other set of extended interactions over several sessions, I should think we could assemble a few reasonable statements to offer our faculty for inclusion in syllabi as learning outcomes.

More on this shortly, or maybe next year.....?

Anne Bahde's picture

I'll agree with Jeffrey here and say that when I have worked to articulate learning outcomes for undergraduate visits, they often look rather K-12ish to me. For example, a few that I have recently used:

Students will understand what a primary source is and identify the different forms primary sources can take (diary, newspaper, map, etc.)

Students will explain differences between primary and secondary sources.

Students will identify and understand different parts of a finding aid.

Students will understand different methods for locating primary source materials in Special Collections.

The K-12ishness dismays me, because there's something about putting the special collections instruction experience into the form of "students will articulate/use/analyze/describe x and x" that just doesn't reflect the magic or wholeness of our classroom experiences (though it's quite possible I'm not writing them with enough clarity, or pizazz!). Of course the objectives/outcomes can get more advanced depending on the class. When developing them I seek to link any objectives to ACRL Information Literacy Standards, and to be clear (at least to myself) about their relation to archival intelligence and/or artifactual literacy (via Yakel's amazing definitions.)

It's been my experience that when approaching faculty about having their classes come to special collections, it's best to have at least have some basic ones established, so that faculty better understand the value of the visit  Because faculty have increasingly been pushed to include these on their syllabi, as Jeffery mentioned, they respond better to the idea of bringing classes for a visit or assignment when they recognize that we have pre-made objectives that they can tweak with us.

Clear assessment of these outcomes, however, has been difficult (at least in my experience) because of constant class time constraints, but I've found there is some potential in working with faculty to include online quiz modules that can be embedded in Blackboard or a course support page for students to complete later, on their own time. (I tried to start a thread on assessment here a while back, but didn't see any respondents--I think it must be a challenge for everyone!) Julie Grob offered some great suggestions for assessment in her preconference workshop in 2009--I'd love to see more ideas.


Anne Bahde's picture

Christian, a few more that might fit the bill--

Marcus C. Robyns, “The Archivist as Education: Integrating Critical Thinking Skills into Historical Research Methods Instruction” The American Archivist 64 (1): 363-384;

Pablo Alvarez, “Introducing Rare Books into the Undergraduate Curriculum.” RBM: A Journal of Rare Books, Manuscripts, and Cultural Heritage. 7(2): 94-103.

Julia Gardner and David Pavelich. “Teaching With Ephemera.” RBM: A Journal of Rare Books, Manuscripts, and Cultural Heritage. (Spring 2008) 9.1: 19-57.

Steven Escar Smith, “From ‘Treasure Room’ to ‘School Room’: Special Collections and Education.” RBM 7 (Spring 2006): 31-39.




Christian Dupont's picture

Thanks, Anne.

I'm familiar with the three articles you cited from RBM. Not sure why they weren't on my list. Maybe I neglected to properly save the file while I was working on it. In any event, thanks for remedying my oversight and for the additional article from the American Archivist.

And now that back issues of AA were made freely accessible on JSTOR earlier this week, I was able to do a quick search and come up with a few more:

Journal Title  - American Archivist
    Article Title  - Archival Orientation for Undergraduate Students: An Exploratory Study of Impact
    Volume  - Volume 71
    Issue  - 2
    First Page  - 499
    Last Page  - 529
    Issue Cover Date  - 2008-09-01
    Author  - Wendy M. Duff
    Author  - Joan M. Cherry
    DOI  -
    Link  - http://archivists.metapress.com/content/p6lt385r7556743h
    Journal Title  - American Archivist
    Article Title  - Archival Research: A "New" Issue for Graduate Education
    Volume  - Volume 63
    Issue  - 2
    First Page  - 258
    Last Page  - 270
    Issue Cover Date  - 2000-09-01
    Author  - Anne J. Gilliland-Swetland
    DOI  -
    Link  - http://archivists.metapress.com/content/6226636045t48543
    Journal Title  - American Archivist
    Article Title  - Primary Sources in K-12 Education: Opportunities for Archives
    Volume  - Volume 70
    Issue  - 1
    First Page  - 114
    Last Page  - 129
    Issue Cover Date  - 2007-01-01
    Author  - Julia Hendry
    DOI  -
    Link  - http://archivists.metapress.com/content/v674024627315777
    Journal Title  - American Archivist
    Article Title  - Student Archival Research Activity: An Exploratory Study
    Volume  - Volume 71
    Issue  - 2
    First Page  - 476
    Last Page  - 498
    Issue Cover Date  - 2008-09-01
    Author  - Xiaomu Zhou
    DOI  -
    Link  - http://archivists.metapress.com/content/n426270367qk311l


Thanks again,


Christian Dupont, Burns Librarian and Associate University Librarian for Special Collections, Boston College | https://bc.academia.edu/ChristianDupont

Sarah Horowitz's picture

It isn't out yet, but ACRL is in the process of putting together Past is Portal: Teaching Undergraduates Using Special Collections and Archives, edited by Eleanor Mitchell, Peggy Seiden, and Suzy Taraba. 

More and more of our faculty are also being required to add learning outcomes to their syllabi, although we haven't seen this affect our Special Collections instruction yet. I have experienced what Anne refers to as "K-12ish-ness" when we were required to use the same assesment form that the general information literacy instruction sessions did a few years ago.  All the response about what students had learned came back as "use pencil," "no food or drink," "it's cold," etc. While I'm glad they learned these things, it's not what we're looking for.  We have gotten around the assesment issue a little by asking facutly to evaluate what they think their students got out of a session or what they addressed in their papers that they would not have without Special Collections, but this is a stop-gap measure at best. 

Sarah Horowitz
Augustana College

Heather Smedberg's picture

Hi, Sarah - might you be able to work with your fellow librarians doing general info lit sessions to revamp the assessment form to provide some more directed questions? It seems like if these are the responses you're getting, the question may not be that meaningful for general info lit sessions either!

It has been my observation (perhaps long-understood by you all here) that when a session is tied to a research project or assignment, the students often don't *really* know how useful the class was until they set out on their own and try to apply what they learned in the session to their own research. Since you are asking the facutly to evaluate how the end product seemed to be influenced by your class, could you also work with the facutly to get feedback from the students at a later point in the research process (upon turning in papers, during rough draft phase, working bibliography phase, or whenever makes sense)? I know this may seem pie in the sky, but maybe worth a shot?

Just some thoughts. We are not (yet) required to provide this type of assessment here, so I have not had to address these issues first hand and am fortunate that I can seek out the kind of feedback that I think will be most useful, rather than the kind that is decreed from on high. I am sure there will come a time when that changes, and I will be grateful to learn from the battles you all are fighting right now!

Heather Smedberg

Reference & Instruction Coordinator, Mandeville Special Collections Library, UC San Diego


Heather Smedberg's picture

Not sure if you're collecting, and I imagine Megan @ Syracuse has her eye out for this kind of thing, but thought I would mention a new article:

"It Makes History Alive for them": the Role of Archivists and SpecialCollections Librarians in Instructing Undergraduates. Krause, Magia G. Journal of Academic Librarianship, Sep2010, Vol. 36 Issue 5, p401-411, 11p.

I haven't read it yet - just came through my contents alert today, but figured it would be of interest to folks in this group.


Julie Grob's picture

Heather, thank you so much for posting this. It's a very fine article! An overview of trends in special collections instruction such as hands-on and active learning, a description of the specific expertise that special collections librarians and archivists can impart to students, and a brief description of the challenges for our field (lack of formal training; difficulty in assessing results).

Julie Grob's picture

Heather, thank you so much for posting this. It's a very fine article! An overview of trends in special collections instruction such as hands-on and active learning, a description of the specific expertise that special collections librarians and archivists can impart to students, and a brief description of the challenges for our field (lack of formal training; difficulty in assessing results).

Anne Bahde's picture

This one, in the latest issue of portal: Libraries and the Academy, focuses on use of primary sources by history faculty. Though many articles mentioned in this thread are absent from this article's literature review, it does offer a revealing survey of history faculty's perceptions of the resources we offer and their accessibility.

The author offers several recommendations on what actions would be most impactful by librarians in promoting our collections and services, and details successful experiments by faculty teaching in collaboration with archivists using a variety of approaches. I was interested to see many of the author's conclusions, but her comments on the need for centralized access to digital primary documents are particularly thought-provoking. I frequently link to gateways for primary sources in course support pages created for visiting classes, and I know others here do as well--the conclusions reached in this article make me wonder what further (and more formal) actions our departments can be doing to serve this user need.

The article is:

Malkmus, Doris. "Old Stuff" for New Teaching Methods: Outreach to History Faculty Teaching with Primary Sources. Portal v.10 no.4(2010) p. 413-435.

Chellammal Vaidyanathan's picture

Here  is another article that would be of interest for our group.

Bond, Trevor James & Butler, Todd. "A dialog on Teaching an Undergraduate Seminar in Special Collections", Library Review. Vol. 58 No: 4, (2009) pp.310 - 316.



Heather Smedberg's picture

For those of you who don't know, SAA's Reference, Access, and Outreach Section is also compiling a bibliography, using Zotero. It's here:


Hope the summer is treating you well!