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Supporting Data Visualization Services in Academic Libraries

Abstract

Data visualization in libraries is not a part of traditional forms of research support, but is an emerging area that is increasingly important in the growing prominence of data in, and as a form of, scholarship. In an era of misinformation, visual and data literacy are necessary skills for the responsible consumption and production of data visualizations and the communication of research results. This article summarizes the findings of Visualizing the Future, which is an IMLS National Forum Grant (RE-73-18-0059-18) to develop a literacy-based instructional and research agenda for library and information professionals with the aim to create a community of praxis focused on data visualization. The grant aims to create a diverse community that will advance data visualization instruction and use beyond hands-on, technology-based tutorials toward a nuanced, critical understanding of visualization as a research product and form of expression. This article will review the need for data visualization support in libraries, review environmental scans on data visualization in libraries, emphasize the need for a focus on the people involved in data visualization in libraries, discuss the components necessary to set up these services, and conclude with the literacies associated with supporting data visualization.

Introduction

Now, more than ever, accurately assessing information is crucially important to discourse, both public and academic. Universities play an important role in teaching students how to understand and generate information. But at many institutions, learning how to effectively communicate findings from the research process is considered idiosyncratic for each field or the express domain of a particular department (e.g. applied mathematics or journalism). Data visualization is the use of spatial elements and graphical properties to display and analyze information, and this practice may follow disciplinary customs. However, there are many commonalities in how we visualize information and data, and the academic library, at the heart of the university, can play a significant role in teaching these skills. In the following article, we suggest a number of challenges in teaching complex technological and methodological skills like visualization and outline a rationale for, and a strategy to, implement these types of services in academic libraries. However, the same argument can be made for any academic support unit, whether college, library, or independently based.

Why Do We Need Data Visualization Support in Libraries?

In many ways the argument for developing data visualization services in libraries mirrors the discussion surrounding the inclusion and extension of digital scholarship support services throughout universities. In academic settings, libraries serve as a natural hub for services that can be used by many departments and fields. Often, data visualization (like GIS or text-mining) expertise is tucked away in a particular academic department making it difficult for students and researchers from different fields to access it.

As libraries already play a key role in advocacy for information literacy and ethics, they may also serve as unaffiliated, central places to gain basic competencies in associated information and data skills. Training patrons how to accurately analyze, assess, and create data visualizations is a natural enhancement to this role. Building competencies in these areas will aid patrons in their own understanding and use of complex visualizations. It may also help to create a robust learning community and knowledge base around this form of visual communication.

In an age of “fake news” and “post-truth politics,” visual literacy, data literacy, and data visualization have become exceedingly important. Without knowing the ways that data can be manipulated, patrons are not as capable of assessing the utility of the information being displayed or making informed decisions about the visual story being told. Presently, many academic libraries are investing resources in data services and subscriptions. Training students, faculty and researchers in ways of effectively visualizing these data sources increases their use and utility. Finally, having data visualization skills within the library also comes with an operational advantage, allowing more effective sharing of data about the library.

We are the Visualizing the Future Symposia, an Institute of Museum and Library Services National Forum Grant-funded group created to develop instructional and research materials on data visualization for library professionals and a community of practice around data visualization. The grant was designed to address the lack of community around data visualization in libraries. More information about the grant is available at the Visualizing the Future website. While we have only included the names of the three main authors; this work was a product of the work of the entire cohort, which includes: Delores Carlito, David Christensen, Ryan Clement, Sally Gore, Tess Grynoch, Jo Klein, Dorothy Ogdon, Megan Ozeran, Alisa Rod, Andrzej Rutkowski, Cass Wilkinson Saldaña, Amy Sonnichsen, and Angela Zoss.

We are currently halfway through our grant work and, in addition to providing publicly available resources for teaching visualization, are also in the process of synthesizing and collecting shared insights into developing and providing data visualization instruction. This present article represents some of the key findings of our grant work.

Current Environment

In order to identify some broad data visualization needs and values, we reviewed three environmental scans. The first was carried out by Angela Zoss, who is one of the co-investigators on the grant, at Duke University (2018) based on a survey that received 36 responses from 30 separate institutions. The second, by S.K. Van Poolen (2017), focuses on an overview of the discipline and includes results from a survey of Big Ten Academic Alliance institutions and others. And the final report by Ilka Datig for Primary Research Group Inc (2019) provides a number of in-depth case studies. While none of the studies claim to provide an exhaustive list of every person or institution providing data visualization support in libraries, in combination they provide an effective overview of the state of the field.

Institutions

The combined environmental scans represent around thirty-five institutions, primarily academic libraries in the United States. However, the Zoss survey also includes data from the Australian National University, a number of Canadian universities, and the World Bank Group. The universities represented vary greatly in size and include large research institutions, such as the University of California Los Angeles, and small liberal arts schools, such as Middlebury and Carleton College.

Some appointments were full-time, while others reported visualization as a part of other job responsibilities. In the Zoss survey, roughly 33% of respondents reported the word “visualization” in their job title.

Types of activities

The combined scans include a variety of services and activities. According to the Zoss survey, the two most common activities (i.e. activities that the most respondents said they engaged in) were providing consultations on visualization projects and giving short workshops or lectures on data visualization. After that other services offered include: providing internal data visualization support for analyzing and communicating library data; training on visualization hardware and spaces (e.g. large scale visualization walls, 3D CAVEs); and managing such spaces and hardware.

Resources needed

These three environmental scans also collectively identify a number of resources that are critical for supporting data visualization in librarians. One of the key elements is training for new librarians, or librarians new to this type of work, on visualization itself and teaching/consulting on data visualization. They also mention that resources are required to effectively teach and support visualization software, including access to the software, learning materials, but also ample time is required for librarians to learn, create and experiment themselves so that they can be effective teachers. Finally they outline the need for communities of practice across institutions and shared resources to support visualization.

It’s About the People

In all of our work and research so far, one important element seems worth stressing and calling out on its own: It is the people who make data visualization services work. Even visualization services focused on advanced instructional spaces or immersive and large scale displays, require expertise to help patrons learn how to use the space, maintain and manage technology, schedule events to create interest, and, especially in the case of advanced spaces, create and manage content to suggest the possibilities. An example of this is the North Carolina State University Libraries’ Andrew W. Mellon Foundation-funded project “Immersive Scholar” (Vandegrift et al. 2018), which brought visiting artists to produce immersive artistic visualization projects in collaboration with staff for the large scale displays at the library.

We encourage any institution that is considering developing or expanding data visualization services to start by defining skill sets and services they wish to offer rather than the technology or infrastructure they intend to build. Some of these skills may include programming, data preparation, and designing for accessibility, which can support a broad range of services to meet user needs. Unsupported infrastructure (stale projects, broken technology, etc.) is a continuing problem in providing data visualization services, and starting any conversation around data visualization support by thinking about the people needed is crucial to creating sustainable, ethical, and useful services.

As evidenced by both the information in the environmental scans and the experiences of Visualizing the Future fellows, one of the most consistently important ways that libraries are supporting visualization is through consultations and workshops that span technologies from Excel to the latest virtual reality systems. Moreover, using these techniques and technologies effectively requires more than just technical know-how; it requires in-depth considerations of design aesthetics, sustainability, and the ethical use and re-use of data. Responsible and effective visualization design requires a variety of literacies (discussed below), critical consideration of where data comes from, and how best to represent data—all elements that are difficult to support and instruct without staff who have appropriate time and training.

Services

Data visualization services in libraries exist both internally and externally. Internally, data visualization is used for assessment (Murphy 2015), marketing librarians’ skills and demonstrating the value of libraries (Bouquin and Epstein 2015), collection analysis (Finch 2016), internal capacity building (Bouquin and Epstein 2015), and in other areas of libraries that primarily benefit the institution. 

External services, in contrast, support students, faculty, researchers, non-library staff, and community members. Some examples of services include individual consultations, workshops, creating spaces for data visualization (both physical and virtual), and providing support for tools. Some libraries extend visualization services into additional areas, like the New York University Health Sciences Library’s “Data Visualization Clinic,” which provides a space for attendees to share and receive feedback on their data visualizations from their peers (Zametkin and Rubin 2018), and the North Carolina State University Libraries’ Coffee and Viz Series, “a forum in which NC State researchers share their visualization work and discuss topics of interest” that is also open to the public (North Carolina State University Libraries 2015).

In order to offer these services, libraries need staff who have some interest and/or experience with data visualization. Some models include functional roles, such as data services librarians or data visualization librarians. These functional librarian roles ensure that the focus is on data and data visualization, and that there is dedicated, funded time available to work on data visualization learning and support. It is important to note that if there is a need for research data management support, it may require a position separate from data visualization. Data services are broad and needs can vary, so some assessment on the community’s greatest needs would help focus functional librarian positions. 

Functional librarian roles may lend themselves to external facing support and community building around data visualization outside of internal staff. A needs assessment can help identify user-centered services, outreach, and support that could help create a community around data visualization for students, faculty, researchers, non-library staff, and members of the public. Having a community focused on data visualization will make sure that services, spaces, and tools are utilized and meeting user needs. 

There is also room to develop non-librarian, technical data visualization positions, such as data visualization specialists or tool-specific specialist positions. These positions may not always have an outreach or community building focus and may be best suited for internal library data visualization support and production. Offering data visualization support as a service to users is separate from data visualization support as a part of library operations, and the decision on how to frame the positions can largely be determined by library needs. 

External data visualization services can include workshops, training sessions, consultations, and classroom instruction. These services can be focused on specific tools, such as Tableau, R, Gephi, and so on. They can be focused on particular skills, such as data cleaning and normalizing, dashboard design, and coding. They can also address general concerns, such as data visualization transparency and ethics, which may be folded into all of the services.

There are some challenges in determining which services to offer:

  • Is there an interest in data visualization in the community? This question should be answered before any services are offered to ensure services are utilized. If there are any liaison or outreach librarians at your institution, they may have deeper insight into user needs and connections to the leaders of their user groups.
  • Are there staff members who have dedicated time to effectively offer these services and support your users?
  • Is there funding for tools you want to teach?
  • Do you have a space to offer these services? This does not have to be anything more complicated than a room with a projector, but if these services begin to grow, it is important to consider the effectiveness of these services with a larger population. For example, a cap on the number of attendees for a tool-specific workshop might be needed to ensure the attendees receive enough individual support throughout the session.

If all of these areas are not addressed, there will be challenges in providing data visualization services and support. Successful data visualization services have adequate staffing, access to the required tools and data, space to offer services (not necessarily a data wall or makerspace, but simply a space with sufficient room to teach and collaborate), and community that is already interested and in need of data visualization services. 

Literacies

The skills that are necessary to provide good data visualization services are largely practical. We derive the following list from our collective experience, both as data visualization practitioners and as part of the Visualizing the Future community of practice. While the following list is not meant to be exhaustive, these are the core competencies that should be developed to offer data visualization services, either from an individual or as part of a team. 

A strong design sense: Without an understanding of how information is effectively conveyed, it is difficult to create or assess visualizations. Thus, data visualization experts need to be versed in the main principles of design (e.g. Gestalt, accessibility) and how to use these techniques to effectively communicate visual information.

Awareness of the ethical implications of data visualizations: Although the finer details are usually assessed on a case by case basis, a data visualization expert should be able to interpret when a visualization is misleading and have the agency to decline to create biased products. This is a critical part of enabling the practitioner to be an active partner in the creation of visualizations. 

An understanding, if not expertise, in a variety of visualization types: Network visualizations, maps, glyphs, Chernoff Faces, for example. There are many specialized forms of data visualization and no individual can be an expert in all of them, but a data visualization practitioner should at least be conversant in many of them. Although universal expertise is impractical, a working knowledge of when particular techniques should be used is a very important literacy.

A similar understanding of a variety of tools: Some examples include Tableau, PowerBI, Shiny, and Gephi. There are many different tools in current use for creating static graphics and interactive dashboards. Again, universal expertise is impractical, but a competent practitioner should be aware of the tools available and capable of making recommendations outside their expertise.

Familiarity with one or more coding languages: Many complex data visualizations happen at the command line (at least partially) so there is a need for an effective practitioner to be at least familiar with the languages most commonly used (likely either R or Python). Not every data visualization expert needs to be a programmer, but familiarity with the potential for these tools is necessary.

Conclusion

The challenges inherent in building and providing data visualization instruction in academic libraries provide an opportunity to address larger pedagogical issues, especially around emerging technologies, methods, and roles in libraries and beyond. In public library settings, the needs for services may be even greater, with patrons unable to find accessible training sources when they need to analyze, assess, and work with diverse types of data and tools. While the focus of our grant work has been on data visualization, the findings reflect the general difficulties of balancing the need and desire to teach tools and invest in infrastructure with the value of teaching concepts and investing in individuals. It is imperative that work teaching and supporting emerging technologies and methods focus on supporting the people and the development of literacies rather than just teaching the use of specific tools. To do so requires the creation of spaces and networks to share information and discoveries.

Bibliography

Bouquin, Daina and Helen-Ann Brown Epstein. 2015. “Teaching Data Visualization Basics to Market the Value of a Hospital Library: An Infographic as One Example.” Journal of Hospital Librarianship 15, no. 4: 349–364. https://doi.org/10.1080/15323269.2015.1079686.

Datig, Ilka. 2019. Profiles of Academic Library Use of Data Visualization Applications. New York: Primary Research Group Inc.

Finch, Jannette L. and Angela R. Flenner. 2016. “Using Data Visualization to Examine an Academic Library Collection.” College & Research Libraries 77, no. 6: 765–778. https://doi.org/10.5860/crl.77.6.765.

Micah Vandegrift, Shelby Hallman, Walt Gurley, Mildred Nicaragua, Abigail Mann, Mike Nutt, Markus Wust, Greg Raschke, Erica Hayes, Abigail Feldman Cynthia Rosenfeld, Jasmine Lang, David Reagan, Eric Johnson, Chris Hoffman, Alexandra Perkins, Patrick Rashleigh, Robert Wallace, William Mischo, and Elisandro Cabada. 2018. Immersive Scholar. Released on GitHub and Open Science Framework. https://osf.io/3z7k5/.

LaPolla, Fred Willie Zametkin and Denis Rubin. 2018. “The “Data Visualization Clinic”: a library-led critique workshop for data visualization.” Journal of the Medical Library Association 106, no. 4: 477–482. https://doi.org/10.5195/jmla.2018.333.

Murphy, Sarah Anne. 2015. “How data visualization supports academic library assessment.” College & Research Libraries News 76, no. 9: 482–486. https://doi.org/10.5860/crln.76.9.9379.

North Carolina State University Libraries. “Coffee & Viz.” Accessed December 4, 2019. https://www.lib.ncsu.edu/news/coffee–viz

Van Poolen, S.K. 2017. “Data Visualization: Study & Survey.” Practicum study at the University of Illinois. 

Zoss, Angela. 2018. “Visualization Librarian Census.” TRLN Data Blog. Last modified June 16, 2018. https://trln.github.io/data-blog/data%20visualization/survey/visualization-librarian-census/.

About the Authors

Negeen Aghassibake is the Data Visualization Librarian at the University of Washington Libraries. Her goal is to help library users think critically about data visualization and how it might play a role in their work. Negeen holds an MS in Information Studies from the University of Texas at Austin.

Matthew Sisk is a spatial data specialist and Geographic Information Systems Librarian based in Notre Dame’s Navari Family Center for Digital Scholarship. He received his PhD in Paleolithic Archaeology from Stony Brook University in 2011 and has worked extensively in GIS-based archaeology and ecological modeling.  His research focuses on human-environment interactions, the spatial scale environmental toxins and community-based research.

Justin Joque is the Visualization Librarian at the University of Michigan. He completed his PhD in Communications and Media Studies at the European Graduate School and holds a Master of Science in Information (MIS) from the University of Michigan.


Clear plastic Jellybox 3D printer completely built with pink zip ties and lime green motors.
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What We Learned Having Faculty Build a 3D Printer

A look at how a university library guided faculty members in building their own 3D printer to be used in various disciplines across campus.

Introduction

From a practical standpoint, many libraries already offer innovative educational technologies through Makerspaces, but training for instructional faculty who use these resources within these spaces continues to be difficult, not only due to the informal nature of the spaces, but also because successful use of these technologies and services often relies on part-time student employees, untrained library personnel, and or online resources for their training (Moorefield-Lang 2015). One specific example of technology found within Makerspaces that may need specialized training is 3D printing, or the process of making a physical object from a three-dimensional digital model, typically by laying down many thin layers of a material in succession.

With respect to this innovation, instructional designers and technologists within libraries are already aware of the importance of this technology as it has repeatedly found its way to the top of emerging educational innovations in higher education publications such as NMC Horizon Report (2013) and Educause Review (2014) over the last five years. Keeping in line with trends in higher education, libraries have been successfully supporting informal student learning of 3D printing; however, anecdotally we have noticed that even though access to the technology has been offered, it has yet to be widely adopted in the formal curriculum.

The mission of James Madison University is to grow as an academic community committed to preparing students to be educated and enlightened citizens who lead productive and meaningful lives. Strategically, the university has identified a number of dimensions to meet that mission. Specifically, the university has focused on engagement at a variety of levels to challenge and support students, faculty, staff, and alumni through meaningful engagement with the university, community, and the world. Engagement in these terms enhances academic, personal, and professional learning while reinforcing community service, civic engagement, and ethical decision-making. The Libraries, as a hub of engagement and learning at the university, focus not only on providing support and resources focused on scholarship but also on supporting innovative instructional practices through the instructional design and technology team that is tasked with encouraging university faculty to adopt instructional methods and practices that may be out of their immediate comfort level. Teams like these focus on providing programming that contributes to an academic community that is committed to academic rigor and teaching excellence, combined with the intentional engagement of students and faculty in meaningful research and experiences and other scholarly endeavors. The result of this allows faculty within the library to create experiences that focus our academic pursuits on solving ill-defined instructional problems that tend to nestle our research within the framework of educational design research (McKenney and Reeves 2008).

For several years, the Libraries had been offering workshops that taught faculty members how to begin using 3D printing. These workshops began with only a few 3D printers in a format defined as sandboxes where faculty could come and explore the topic with limited direct instruction based on the ideals for the community of practice. As with each new development within education technology, stakeholders often find developing a familiarity with the technology is necessary before they can use that technology with their students. Historically, libraries often provide service as the location when new technology is not widely available, either due to cost or at times due to the amount of support or training required to successfully use that new technology. As we began to realize the increasing interest in the technology for teaching and learning, we also began to develop a classroom known as 3SPACE that was created specifically for instructors interested in guiding their own students through the 3D printing process. Unlike instruction in preK-12, the situation for most instructors in higher education is that faculty do not “own” their classroom so most faculty do not have the opportunity to develop a deep understanding of the technology outside of their time within the specialized classroom. It occurred to the instructional design team that the adoption of 3D printers could potentially mirror the adoption of printers that occurred in the early to late 1990’s where paper printers were first housed in libraries until costs dropped and availability increased, making it possible for most faculty and students to have that type of technology in their dorms and/or homes.

To help reduce the time for adoption, we began to envision a series of workshops where we could begin to give 3D printers to faculty so that they would increase their own familiarity with the technology while also building a community of inquiry with colleagues from across the university. Coincidentally, while we were considering this, a local pre-K–12 school system invited us to their own professional development workshop where we encountered 3D printer kits where faculty could build their own 3D printers. After attending this workshop, we conceptualized a series of our own workshops where we would guide faculty through the building of their own 3D printers to create ownership of the learning process while encouraging them both to gain familiarity with the innovation and to help encourage the diffusion of this technology from the existing hub of the library to individual home departments. We envisioned a workshop that would guide learners through the Learning Circle of Reflection, Learning, Planning, and Action. Thus, we developed weekly workshops that followed these steps in terms of how faculty might use their new printers within their own classrooms.

Participants for the workshop were faculty recruited from across campus. The inaugural class included five faculty members and a graduate student from each of the following disciplines: literacy education, science education, occupational therapy, and media arts and design. The participants applied and were accepted in the university’s Build Your Own 3D Printer five-week immersive experience. In teams of two, participants built their own 3D printer and explored ways 3D printing might be integrated into their assignments, courses, or research. The first two weeks focused on collaboratively building a Jellybox 3D printer. The following two weeks focused on printing and designing 3D objects as a way to create instructional activities with students. The last week included printing artifacts, and teams were awarded their own Jellybox 3D printer.

Multiple pictures of faculty around tables putting together tiny pieces of a 3D printer while following instructions from a YouTube video.

Figure 1. Participants for the Build Your Own 3D Printer Program.

Jellybox 3D Printer: An Overview

The Jellybox 3D printer is made by IMADE3D. This company’s philosophy is that there is no better way to learn 3D printing in depth than to build your own machine. Our experience building a Jellybox 3D printer helped to bring this point home, as we did in fact have a more comprehensive view of how a 3D printer operates after building one, even with our extensive prior knowledge of 3D printing. Our choice to use this particular printer came about after a local elementary school challenge teacher reached out to a few of our team members and invited us to a day-long workshop to help them build their own Jellybox 3D printer. They had invited IMADE3D to lead the workshop and walk us through how to build and operate the 3D printers. This was made possible because they are located in Vienna, Virginia, close to our university campus. Upon completion of the workshop, our team reflected on the experience and decided to purchase a kit for our entire team to assemble. One of the challenges we experienced building our own was not setting aside an entire day dedicated to building the 3D printer. However, our printer build took much longer than anticipated, in the face of short build periods, with participation starting strong at the outset but slowly dropping off as schedules became busier. Eventually, our 3D printer did get assembled, sparking an idea how we could possibly work with faculty to build their own 3D printers that they would then be able to bring to their departments for use in their courses.

Our experience tells us that building the 3D printer helped us deepen our understanding of 3D printing and that this build could be completed either all at once in an 8-hour day or with smaller chunks of time over the course of a few weeks. We also noticed that collaborating together really helped us feel ownership: understanding and using the 3D printer and having others to bounce ideas off of. Some of our initial fears where we thought we might break a 3D printer were put to rest because we knew where every little screw, bolt, and zip tie went, and what held it all together. Our confidence grew knowing that some of the pieces were 3D printed and replacement parts could be printed in house allowing us to be able to fix our own printer if needed. We brainstormed an immersive experience where faculty would commit to five sessions designed for them to have extended time and space to build the 3D printer, and then have time to design and print objects. All participants were required to identify a building partner from their department to ensure no one would have to go back as the sole point of contact for how to operate the 3D printer.

We discussed the idea of the partners having more ownership by taking the 3D printer back to their department after having put it together as a team. We chose the Jellybox Easy Build kit primarily because it was designed for novices and teachers among other groups as listed on the IMADE3D website. The cost is $990.00 for the easy build kit with funds made available as a part of our sandbox budget, where money is set aside each year to get instructional technologies into the hands of faculty through our various programs and events.

Clear plastic Jellybox 3D printer completely built with pink zip ties and lime green motors.

Figure 2. Image of Jellybox 3D Printer assembled during the program.

The library ordered a Jellybox Easy Build Kit for each group. As a whole group, we watched the step-by-step videos and assembled our 3D printers together. Initially, we planned to complete the builds in two weeks and found that more time was needed to complete the build in this timeline. We met for five consecutive Fridays from 9:00 am to 12:00 pm. Because of this elongated timeline, participants did not have as much time to print or to reflect together on the experience.

Afterwards, we collected information from the faculty participants about their experiences with the 3D printing workshop. We asked:

  • What was your experience with 3D printers prior to this workshop?
  • Describe your experience in the 3D printing workshop and what new insights were gained?
  • How do you envision using your 3D printer in your teaching and/or research?
  • Have there been any collaborations with fellow workshop attendees? Describe.

Faculty Experiences

Even though not a requirement, all six participants had reported in their application for the program that they completed a 3D printing or maker related workshop prior to attending the Build Your Own 3D Printer program. Because of the background knowledge the participants already had, they were able to think more deeply about how the parts worked and could more easily realize when something was off. One media arts and design faculty members added that it “gave a sense of being able to troubleshoot issues and understand limitations/perimeters.” All indicated they had classroom projects in their departments for which they planned to use their 3D printer. One of the education faculty team members stated, “Once we were finished building the printer I was very proud and excited to think about the possibilities of using this printer in my courses.” Participants reported as well that ways they would share the 3D printer with their colleagues, write a grant for science and literacy makerspace curricula, create 3D printed objects for alumni-related projects, as well as work with faculty in foundation courses to incorporate 3D printing.

At the conclusion of the experience, four of the six participants completed building their Jellybox 3D printer and successfully printed 3D objects. Two of the participants were unable to complete the 5-week session and did not build their 3D printer. While we had hoped for all six participants to complete the 3D printer, the results we saw from the four who have completed have been positive.

Two of the participants in the college of education shared that as newer faculty to the university, this program helped them carve out time to work on a project together. This allowed them to establish a working relationship with a colleague that has expanded beyond just building a 3D printer together. As a result of this workshop, these two participants and the two facilitators of the program have formed a collaboration to explore 3D printing in more depth both at the university and in the surrounding pre-K–12 schools. A 3D printing real-world solutions course has now been designed by one of the participants and one of the facilitators to incorporate 3D printing into a general education course.

Two of the participants in the school of media arts and design shared their excitement of having a 3D printer in their department by talking about the types of class projects they plan to implement. One approach they would like to employ is experimenting with 3D printing to create plates/matrices for very old and traditional printing methods, such as relief presses. The team borrowed this idea from Jason Webb, a creative technologist based in Minnesota.

Conclusion

There are barriers—either due to cost or location—to emerging educational technologies making them not immediately available to faculty and students in higher education, and thwarting the opportunity for hands-on experience. However, innovative educational technologies such as 3D printing are already being utilized in engineering and technology-related fields and are increasingly being used in a variety of professions. Makerspaces and other campus technology supports have the potential to provide the opportunity for faculty to develop the skills to incorporate these technologies into disciplines in the humanities and social sciences, as well as to promote collaboration between faculty across disciplines. Innovative programming through libraries for faculty is one way to encourage the adoption of cutting-edge technology but it may not be enough to drive full adoption. While we found that this experience provided insight into potential methods for supporting faculty in adopting these new technologies, and also highlighted challenges that exist in these efforts—as well as how these outcomes can lead to new collaborations—we have also found that there may be better ways to support 3D printing. These include focusing on the instructional design process, offering intensive learning opportunities to design new assignments for specific disciplines, and also offering opportunities to share work on the academic stage through the development of a new academic conference to showcase curriculum design and research.

Bibliography

Colegrove, Patrick. 2014. “Making It Real: 3D Printing as a Library Services.” EDUCAUSE REVIEW, October. https://doi.org/10.1108/01409170810913060.

Johnson, Larry, Samantha Adams-Becker, Malcolm Cummings, Victoria Estrada, Alex Freeman, and Holly Ludgate. 2013. “NMC Horizon Report: 2013 Higher Education Edition.” Austin, Texas: The New Media Consortium.

McKenney, Susan, and Thomas C. Reeves. 2014. “Educational Design Research.” In Handbook of Research on Educational Communications and Technology, 131–40. New York, NY: Springer New York. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-1-4614-3185-5_11.

Moorefield-Lang, Heather. 2015. “Change in the Making: Makerspaces and the Ever-Changing Landscape of Libraries.” TechTrends 59 (3): 107–12. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11528-015-0860-z.

About the Authors

Chelsey M. Bahlmann Bollinger, PhD, is an assistant professor at James Madison University. She specializes in elementary literacy instruction, technology integration, and in-service and pre-service teacher education. She is a previous elementary school teacher. In her most recent qualitative study, she worked with teachers to better understand how technology was integrated at their school, as well as, the ongoing relationships elementary teachers had with technology as part of their literacy instruction.

Jamie Calcagno-Roach is the Head of the Educational Technology in JMU Libraries. She teaches undergraduate instructional technology courses in the JMU College of Education Learning, Technology and Leadership Education program as well as a General Education 3D Printing Real World Solutions undergraduate course. She regularly presents at international, national, and regional conferences.

Joi Merritt, PhD, specializes in science, technology and math (STEM) education, designing science learning environments, and in-service and pre-service teacher education. She has conducted research studies from which her work has been published in numerous peer-reviewed journals and presents regularly at local, national and international conferences. Her coursework has included co-teaching a Community Innovations class in the JMU X-labs which included designing a makerspace-type classroom and resources for a local elementary school. She is a previous high school chemistry and physics teacher in North Carolina.

Eric Stauffer is the Director of Instructional Design and Technology in JMU Libraries. He teaches graduate and undergraduate educational technology classes at JMU MEd Ed Tech program. He has conducted research studies and has published in peer-reviewed journals, and regularly presented at international, national, and regional conferences.

A photo of shelves of paper files in an archive.
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Narrating Memory through Rhetorical Reflections: CUNY Students and Their Archives

Abstract

This essay analyzes the importance of connection in teaching with archives: connections between our goals for our projects; between students and their research projects; between the past and the present; between students, faculty, and embedded librarians; and between the physical act of archival research and the digital writing to record that research. In this essay, two faculty and one librarian detail their projects assigning archival research in physical archives: the Abraham Lincoln Brigade Archives at the Tamiment Library at New York University and the Hunter College Archives. As our undergraduate students researched in physical archives and shared their research through digital platforms, they became active agents of generational transmission by publicly sharing the life histories and experiences of former CUNY students involved in activist movements. Through analysis of these collaborative, digital archival assignments, we show the role that students can play in transmitting institutional memory while learning about and engaging with primary sources.

“Internet searching doesn’t hold a candle to that visceral feeling of an old primary document. All of my senses were triggered on this archive visit, and I was only there for half a day. I would like to return to the archive—this archive, any archive—without an assignment or mission attached and just have some fun exploring.” —Elyse Orecchio[1]

“During our visit to Tamiment Library, I was moved by the fact that each box contained individual memories of an American volunteer in the Spanish Civil War. I wondered how much of one person’s life could fit in these boxes, and how these documents could help narrating the friendships among young soldiers, the making of improvised families, the experiences of the displaced children, and how some these lives might have survived the war. I wondered, finally, how much legacy can these archives preserve?” —Marcelo Agudo

In a class session announcing a visit to the Hunter College Archives, several students in a class of juniors and seniors admitted that they had never even been inside the Hunter College Library—or any library. We might all shudder at the thought, but it is quite common for students to have no reason for entering a physical library or speaking with a librarian face to face. It is not that students Google everything: they have extensive remote access to scholarly journals and primary sources through electronic databases, and digital holdings now outpace physical holdings at libraries. Furthermore, librarians are available through digital platforms to assist students with their research. As student reflections from our courses show, the experience of entering a library, working with physical primary sources, and interacting with librarians face-to-face became a positive practice that not only introduced students to a new method and approach to research, but also resulted in new attitudes towards libraries, librarians, and the relevance of institutional memory.

The central question of this essay focuses on the role of students in institutional memory: what does it mean for undergraduates to do the work of narrating memory? Here we elaborate our archival research assignments: María Hernández-Ojeda’s Narrating Memory assignment taught in her courses on Spanish literature, and Wendy Hayden’s Rhetorical Reflections assignment, taught in her courses on rhetoric and writing. We both assigned undergraduates at Hunter College-CUNY to perform archival research in physical archives and report on that research on digital platforms (all WordPress based sites): Narrating Memory, Rhetorical Reflections in the Hunter College Archives, and Archival Research and Rhetoric. Iris Finkel, Reference and Instruction Librarian at Hunter College, redefined the role of the librarian in classroom instruction as she assisted students and faculty with research assignments in both physical and digital archives and used her digital humanities expertise to help students and faculty understand the norms and creative approaches to digital presentation. Although the three of us began these projects separately, here we bring them together in order to illustrate the theme of connection in teaching with archives: connections between our goals for our projects; between students and their research projects; between the past and the present; between students, faculty, and librarians; and between the physical act of archival research and the digital writing to record that research.

Over twenty years ago, Randy Bass (1997) promoted active learning pedagogy that incorporated primary sources and new technologies. Bass illustrated how new technologies facilitated engagement and fostered collaboration among students, using examples of assignments where students interacted with “electronic primary source archives (on the World Wide Web, or CD-ROM)” (1997, 15). Through hypertext, then a revolutionary new feature of interactive media, students were readily able to explore outside the source to find other meaning-making connections. Using technologies such as email, listservs, electronic discussion lists, and teleconferencing, students discussed primary sources outside the classroom. Students collaborated, made new connections in the material, and communicated knowledge that added a different perspective. Students moved from knowledge “consumers to producers” (Bass 1997, 33). We show how emerging technologies continue to empower student voices.

Recent scholarship shows that more teachers are assigning physical archival research to undergraduates, a trend Hayden (2017) has called “The Archival Turn’s Pedagogical Turn.” Students have been assigned to research in institutional archives (Brand, Kendall, and Sanders 2012; Johnson and Mulder 2011), community archives (Grobman 2017; Mutnick 2018), and in larger repositories (Devos et al. 2012; Mock 2015). In addition, archivists are reaching out to teachers to form partnerships with specific classes, such as the Brooklyn Historical Society’s TeachArchives.org (Golia and Katz 2018). Recent books, including the collections Pedagogies of Public Memory: Teaching Writing and Rhetoric at Museums, Archives, and Memorials (Greer and Grobman 2016), In the Archives of Composition: Writing and Rhetoric in High Schools and Normal Schools (Ostergaard and Wood 2015), and the textbook Primary Research and Writing: People, Places, and Spaces (Gaillet and Eble 2016), reflect a focus on archival pedagogies in rhetoric and composition studies. This research demonstrates that teaching with archives facilitates active learning. In addition, teaching with archives provides an ideal opportunity to teach information literacy. And from a digital humanities perspective, archival material can be analyzed and repurposed in new ways for new audiences, as our projects demonstrate.

In previous articles, Hayden (2015; 2017) has enumerated the benefits of teaching with archives related to what Susan Wells (2009) calls the “gifts of the archives”: archival research teaches students 1) to resist simple answers to their research questions, 2) to contribute to ongoing conversations in a discipline through publishing undergraduate research, and 3) to connect with their research topics personally. In this essay, we focus on the third, to show what CUNY students learned by researching past CUNY students, and how encounters with archival materials can facilitate student-centered learning experiences in other institutions and contexts.

Composition and Rhetoric graduate students at the CUNY Graduate Center have produced several dissertations on the importance of CUNY to histories of the discipline (Molloy 2016; Savonick 2018). Anthony G. Picciano and Chet Jordan (2018) recently published CUNY’s First Fifty Years: Triumphs and Ordeals of a People’s University, which documents CUNY’s history in the context of free and open-admissions universities. The CUNY Digital History Archive not only aims to document the unique history of CUNY and its role in larger movements in higher education but also invites researchers, teachers, and students to collaborate on developing the archive and its uses for archival and digital humanities assignments in CUNY courses (Brier 2017). The CUNY Digital History Archive reflects both CUNY’s emphasis on archives and on publishing on digital platforms. All of these projects document CUNY’s history and the teachers and students who have shaped it. Students in our courses add to these histories while constructing a unique history of activist students and their roles in larger social movements. And it is important to us that undergraduate students rather than faculty do this work, both to highlight the value of archives and to involve undergraduate students in documenting institutional memory.

According to Ekaterina Haskins (2007), we need to go beyond memory work that is done by those in power. Haskins (2007, 402) notes, “relegating the task of remembering to official institutions and artifacts arguably weakens the need for a political community actively to remember its past.” When current CUNY students use archival research to narrate the memory of former CUNY students, they participate in a “continuous transmission of shared past through participatory performance” (Haskins 2007, 402).

Students in our courses performed research in the institutional archives at Hunter College and the Tamiment Library at New York University, exploring topics such as the efforts of Hunter women to establish free kindergarten in New York City, to organize the Lenox Hill Settlement House, and to become involved in CUNY student activism during the two World Wars and the Spanish Civil War. And in a “meta-analytic” topic, some students have researched and analyzed the research processes of past student researchers at Hunter, whose typewritten, whited-out drafts give insight into the revision processes of earlier generations of students. Whether they were collecting stories of women returning to college, documenting the involvement of students in the Abraham Lincoln Brigade during the Spanish Civil War, or processing archival collections, they were becoming both active agents of generational transmission and digital archivists themselves. These students not only recovered the voices of CUNY students, such as the “returning woman” and Abraham Lincoln volunteers, but they also extended the original goals of these past students in a new digital context, creating their own digital archives, either in written or multimedia form, blending the voices of the past and present students of CUNY.

Goals

Archives enable unique pedagogical approaches to the topics of our courses. María’s undergraduate courses concentrated on twentieth-century Spanish literature, where the Spanish Civil War (SCW) is a constant presence in class discussions, whether through the exiled poets of the 1927 generation, the novels of tremendismo, or the issues of memory and identity in today’s literary Spain. The SCW served as  a common subject uniting historical and fictional narratives in the course. The Abraham Lincoln Brigade Archives (ALBA), which include primary-source documents related to a group of Americans who volunteered to serve in the SCW, helped bring the past to life for contemporary CUNY students. The Lincoln Brigade, the American battalion that participated in the Spanish Civil War within the International Brigades, included about 2800 men and women who left the US between 1936 and 1938 to fight fascism in Spain. The Lincoln Brigade’s commitment was an act of disobedience to the US government, which remained neutral, while other Western nations signed a non-intervention pact when the Spanish Civil War began in 1936. Some of these volunteers were CUNY faculty and students themselves. In the Narrating Memory project, today’s students connected with the stories and experiences of American volunteers in the SCW and began to understand why fellow CUNY students left everything and sailed to Spain to fight a war the US government largely ignored.

Wendy’s undergraduate courses incorporated the Hunter College Archives to show the centrality of recovery of lost voices to the field of rhetoric. Researching activist students, teachers, and writers in a local context allowed students to enter scholarly conversations about historiography and institutional memory. The archive project introduced students to a new method of research and information literacy skills.

Initially, we both hoped assigning archival research would allow undergraduates to make their own historical discoveries, learn the skills of archival research, and reflect on the complexities of history as a subjective concept. The work that students produced in these courses exceeded our expectations.

The Archives

New York City provides teachers access to many physical archives, such as the Brooklyn Historical Society, the Lesbian Herstory Archives, and the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, among others. We concentrate here on the pedagogical opportunities offered by institutional archives: the Hunter College Archives and the ALBA collection at the Tamiment Library at New York University.

The Hunter College Archives include collections dating back to Hunter’s founding in 1870 as the Normal School. Student projects have focused on Hunter College student communities, such as the newsletters Returning Woman (1981–1998) and Lesbians Rising (1976–1983); on writers and teachers at Hunter College, such as Kate Simon (1959–1989) and Helen Gray Cone (1859–1934); and on Hunter students’ roles in larger movements, such as the Women’s City Club (1915–2011) and the Lenox Hill Settlement House (1892–2015). In addition to researching existing materials in the archives, they added to the archives with documents from their own clubs, worked with unprocessed collections, and created a finding aid, all to tell the story of the students of CUNY and their roles in larger social movements.

The Abraham Lincoln Brigade Archives at the Tamiment Library contain materials related to American involvement in the Spanish Civil War. The Tamiment Library is a nationally-recognized space for scholars interested in researching labor history, civil rights movements, and left political ideology. The collection holds about 50,000 books, 15,000 periodicals, and about one million pamphlets and ephemera. The Tamiment Library contains letters, books, photographs, news, interviews, and other compelling information that is imperative to understand the contribution of the Lincolns.

Librarian Collaboration

At the Tamiment, María initially worked with former Public Services and Instruction Librarian Kate Donovan and currently works with Public Service Librarian Sara Moazeni, and Reference Associate Danielle Nista. The librarians reviewed the course syllabus and became familiar with the course goals prior to the first class visit. After introducing the students to the ALBA collection, the librarians provided an information sheet and instructional activities for students to discuss in groups in order to familiarize them with the archival material. In February 2018, librarian Danielle Nista arranged four sets of documents (posters, diaries, and photos) for our analysis. She organized four groups of approximately five students so they could rotate and discuss each item to provide a broad introduction to the archives.

At the Hunter College Archives, former head archivists Julio Hernandez-Delgado and Louise Sherby developed an introductory session where students read several articles on Hunter College history before their visit. During the class visit, the archivists led a discussion of the assigned articles, introduced the collections, and demonstrated how to use a finding aid. More than a “how to” session, the introduction was a discussion of the history of the college as documented in the archives. Students used that discussion to formulate research questions. Iris developed a library guide to the archives that includes general information about the types of materials held in archives, instructions on citing archival material, and links to online exhibitions.

As the project developed, Iris joined Wendy’s classes as an embedded librarian, and in that role integrated a digital humanities focus. Beyond the embedded librarian’s traditional responsibilities such as helping students with research and navigating physical and digital archives, for these archival assignments Iris guided students in using WordPress to communicate their work to a broader audience, thereby acting as knowledge producers. Iris introduced students to digital tools such as the timeline software Tiki Toki and Weebly, a content management system more user friendly than WordPress. She commented on students’ blog posts to point out information gaps and suggested resources to help fill those gaps. From her position within the classroom, Iris established relationships with students and met with them both in groups and individually during class time. Through this process she was able to determine the best fit for individual projects based on each student’s comfort level with new technologies and features of tools. Overall, collaboration among embedded librarians, archivists, students, and faculty was integral to the success of student projects and to the class.

The Assignments

The class visit to the Tamiment helped students to understand the role of the archive in their final project, and from then on they visited the archive on their own. Each student chose one Lincoln volunteer as the subject of their final essay and researched archival material to elaborate their motives to fight in the war. The final paper, posted individually on the Narrating Memory website, represented the culmination of the semester-long research they undertook at the Tamiment.

Students in the rhetoric courses were assigned to find a document or documents in the Hunter archives and tell that document’s story in relation to any theme in the course, such as women’s activism, silencing, writing, education, or civil rights rhetoric. They documented their findings and their research process on the Rhetorical Reflections blog (named by the students). They often detailed how they went into the archives interested in one topic and had to abandon that topic because it lacked material or because they found a more interesting topic. Wendy emphasized in class that they should document their entire process, even when it did not lead to anything. As Lynee Gaillet (2017, 109) points out, “Primary investigation often involves following a fun trail of clues … or a serendipitous find. Unfortunately, however, academicians often manage to stifle this most interesting aspect of our research in publications and rarely explain the process we find so engaging to either readers or students.” Based on these ideas, we asked students to include as many details as possible on their process, even when they found documents not relevant to their research topic, so future students can learn from their process and better locate materials relevant to their own projects. The class focus on process led to a publication in Young Scholars in Writing by student Esra Padgett (2015), whose article “Feminist Research as Journey (Or, Like, Whatever?)” asserts, “Rather than pinning down an answer, [this] essay attempts to follow the trajectory of the research itself, observing how perspectives can shift drastically depending on one’s method of inquiry.”

The digital aspects of our assignments aligned with digital humanities objectives of learning to locate, present, support, and cite research and scholarship. Through these assignments, students engaged with technology and considered different modes of presentation to support their scholarship. In addition to learning new ways to engage with content and enhance their digital literacy, students developed visual awareness through the process of finding appropriate images and media to complement textual content, and sometimes to represent content without text.

Both projects foreground the role of active learning. While we could teach students about the Spanish Civil War or rhetorical traditions using other methods such as assigning anthologies of primary or secondary sources, these methods would not engage students the same way. The true motivation to learn about the course material begins in the archives. From the moment students came into contact with the documents on the ALB volunteers at the Tamiment, everything they studied became meaningful. For example, we found that student writing improves through the projects, whether because of their passion for the topic or the blog format. Students also recognized the relevance of their writing style and accuracy, as their work was accessed by outside readers, some of whom have a connection with the material. All of the students began to understand how their voices were contributing to efforts to interrogate public memory. Writing, here, became a direct form of activism, as well as an academic exercise.

CUNY Connections

The archival visits generated a variety of connections for students and by students. Students connected with the stories and experiences of American volunteers in the SCW and began to understand why fellow CUNY students left everything and sailed to Spain to fight a war the US government largely ignored. Student Ashley Martinez found that the archive lacked information about David McKelvy White, a professor of English at Brooklyn College who unexpectedly left his teaching position in 1937 to fight in the SCW, so she expanded her search well beyond the Tamiment: “I have embarked on a nationwide search for information. I have found letters and stories [McKelvy White] wrote at the NYPL, additional documents from the Ohio Historical Society, which sent me the letters between David and his father, the Governor of Ohio, as well as documents he wrote during his political activism years after the SCW.” While Ashley began her project from an impartial position, keeping McKelvy White’s memory alive turned into an urgent task, a need to memorialize his life. Like many of the fictional characters discussed in the course, such as Lola and Javier Cercas in Soldiers of Salamis (Cercas 2001), Carlos Sousa in The Carpenter’s Pencil (Rivas 1998), or Minaya in Beatus Ille (Muñoz Molina 1986), Ashley became a young receptor of history, an interlocutor to an older generation keeping the memories of those who fought in the SCW alive.

Several students chose to research someone with a connection to their own life and academic interests. For instance, student Cody Butler wanted to study the life of Fernando Gerassi, the father of his professor at Queens College, John “Tito” Gerassi. Leon Ramotar wanted to learn about Hunter College alumna Helene Weissman, who joined the ALB as a medical administrative aid and interpreter. Pre-med student Kathleen Jedruszczuk wrote her final essay on the renowned Dr. Edward K. Barsky, a surgeon, political activist, and graduate from City College. In her project, Kathleen explained, “Reading about Edward Barsky’s life made me realize that he was more than just ‘aid to Spain’; he was an aid to humanity. Anyone who risks their life for people, goes to jail for the people, and becomes a doctor to help those people is an aid to humanity.” Student Rebecca Halff focused on Robert Klonsky and the relevance of Brownsville, Brooklyn, a diverse, working-class, and Jewish community with strong communist leanings, as a catalyst to join the ALB.

Through their research, students placed themselves into the stories told in the archives, both implicitly and explicitly. For example, Elyse Orecchio and Janice Johnson, both non–traditional-aged “returning women,”  researched the archives of the Returning Woman newsletter at Hunter and reflected on the connections they found. Janice perused the collection until she found work by a Puerto Rican woman like herself who was returning to college. Janice stated, “I was able to look and reflect on my own experience as a returning woman. I am that woman in the newsletter. I am the returning woman, the returning Hispanic woman, the returning student.” Elyse related, “I didn’t expect to get emotional when I looked through the first few issues of the newsletter. There was a lot of supportive, motivational writing that acknowledged this idea that you have a million other things going on, but you are doing this great thing for yourself.” Janice decided to create her own website that showcased her primary archival documents and video interviews with classmates—including Elyse—on the struggles of women returning to college.

The online format of the projects allowed students to write for audiences beyond the classroom and enabled explicit connections with those audiences. For example, student Haley Trunkett wrote her essay on May Levine Hartzman, a New Yorker who worked as an operating nurse during the SCW. She met her husband, Jacob Hartzman, in Spain, where he was an ambulance driver. Their son Peter provided information to Haley. Student Laura Montoya received feedback from Georgia Wever, the coordinator of the Friends and Family of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade Archives. Laura wrote about Jewish involvement in the SCW, and in particular, the story of volunteer Mark Strauss. In her comment, Georgia Wever wrote:

Dear Laura, What an interesting and inspiring story of a great person. With very little information, you manage to capture his humor and courage. I am disappointed that I never met him. I attended many reunions and banquets of the Veterans of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade at which all the veterans would stand, but I don’t recall him. I regret that you did not locate anyone who knew him because I would like to know more about his life after Spain. Perhaps someone will read this essay on our listserv and leave a reply. Thank you again for the affection you put into his story.

Students also wrote to former students and their families. For example, Carl Creighton wrote to the family of the president of the Hunter College Suffrage Clubs, who knew nothing of her suffrage activities. Elyse emailed the Hunter student who wrote the paper she found in the archives and received a response that connected the past and the present. As Deborah Mutnick (2016) explains, “Part of the archive’s appeal to my students is what Lucy Lippard refers to as the ‘lure of the local.’ Students encounter documents that reveal the history of the very streets they walk, and they gain a sense of empathy for the historical actors they study.” For our students, the people whose stories are told in the archives were more than only “historical actors,” but real people they interacted with through digital connections.

Melissa Hutton’s project in Wendy’s fall 2015 class prompted us to think of the blogs themselves as an archive. She responded to scholarship on digital writing by analyzing the writing and research practices of her peers as documented on their blogs. She concluded, “These blog posts are a perfect example of primary documents being born digitally and facilitating a place for online research.” Melissa’s work inspired revisions to the archive assignment. For example, Wendy added a requirement to link to other student blog posts on similar topics and tag the blogs with descriptors such as “World War II” for blogs discussing women’s activism during the war, thus  turning the website into a student-written and -researched history of a tradition at Hunter. In fall 2018, Wendy is approaching the archive assignment differently by having her first-year writing students read student blogs first, and then work with the same documents previous students did and develop new questions about those documents and compare different archival research processes. The blogging technology thus creates an archive of students’ research in archives, useful to future students researching in archives.

Conclusion

In the digital world, research can seem a disembodied and impersonal task for undergraduate students. We found that the physicality of archival research, far from being a burden to students, is the very thing that makes them connect with their research and their institution. Inviting a librarian into the classroom personalizes research and encourages students’ confidence in their work as they receive support to facilitate their research and present it in an appropriate format.

From a librarian’s perspective, the lessons students learn from archival research, particularly understanding the differences between primary and secondary sources and how one can provide support for the other, make them stronger researchers even when they are not researching in archives. Melissa and Iris discussed how this distinction between primary and secondary sources needs to be redefined in a digital context. For example, a student blog post may not be an authoritative source to cite, but Melissa noted the value of these blog posts to researchers in the field of library studies or composition studies: “While regarding student blog posts as secondary sources might not be wholly credible for authenticating an academic paper or constructing a historical narrative, viewing them as primary sources gives them new meaning as legitimate firsthand student accounts. … Student blog posts acquire a currency hard to find in finely-combed scholarly sources. In this case, student blog posts provide us with interpretations of rhetoric and archival research instruction.” They might be used as an archive to explore student research processes from an academic perspective or as a mode of communication between scholars. If someone were doing research on the ALB or on the struggles of women returning to college, the blogs on Narrating Memory or Rhetorical Reflections may be a useful window into those topics.

Researching CUNY students and professors through the ALBA collection and the institutional archives at Hunter placed students within a tradition of student activists as they contributed to the process of memorialization. The act of telling the story of someone unknown and becoming an intermediary of both primary and secondary internet research also meant their work was meaningful in ways that traditional research papers may not be (Keegan and McElroy 2015; Mutnick 2016). Students in our courses became active agents of generational transmission for the ALB volunteers and the history of CUNY by transmitting their life histories and shared experiences.

Our students directly benefited from the collaboration between their instructor and librarians, as well as Hunter College and the Tamiment’s commitment to making their collections available. The accessibility of archives to students, researchers, and the general reader can make them a democratic and pedagogical tool. Unfortunately, many archives are suffering from serious funding cuts and increasingly limited access. The future of archives depends on valuing historical materials and reimagining their purposes in the present. Eighty years after the SCW began, we continue to learn about the crucial role that the ALB volunteers played in the fight against fascism. Delmer Berg, the last Lincoln alive, died on February 28th, 2016. Thanks to the younger American generations who narrate their legacy, voices like Berg’s and those of former CUNY students will remain in history, and in our memory.

Notes

[1] All student work mentioned in this essay is used with permission. Students indicated that they would like their full names used to credit their work.

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About the Authors

Wendy Hayden is Associate Professor of English at Hunter College, CUNY.

María Hernández-Ojeda is Associate Professor of Spanish at Hunter College, CUNY.

Iris Finkel is Reference and Instruction / Web Librarian at Hunter College, CUNY.

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