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Instruction in the Reading Room

faculty member teaching students

Hands-on learning

Faculty members, are you looking for a new way to engage students? Try using primary sources like rare books and archives! We offer hands-on learning with unique and rare materials like oral history interviews, rare books, the University’s own historical records, government publications, maps, personal papers, letters, and photographs.

In a single session, students can explore these resources and make connections with their course outcomes or readings. The holdings of Special Collections and University Archives are on a wide array of topics that can complement virtually any course. We can help students find and use original materials to complete your assignment successfully, or we can collaborate with you to design an assignment.

Virtual options

We will be offering various options for synchronous or asynchronous learning that are listed below. You can choose from any option or if you have a creative idea feel free to contact our Instruction Archivist, Randi Beem (, if you would like to work collaboratively on that creative idea. 

  1. A Basic Introduction: Introduce students to Archives, Special Collections and/or to familiarize students with specific collections or primary source sets. Options can be combined or taught individually, for example: 

    1. Virtual classroom session to introduce Archives and Special Collections and explore how archival holdings and rare books  fit into the research ecosystem.

    2. Virtual classroom session that introduces students to a particular digital collection and/or basic how-to access and navigate catalog, finding aids, requesting, etc. through active learning activities such as scavenger hunt that explores the website, archival finding aids, and more.

  2. Close Analysis: Collaboratively teach a lesson built around 2-5 primary sources that are connected to the content of your course. This type of lesson can instill in students how primary documents can provide inspiration for their own research questions. We will work together to identify a selection of letters, photographs, fliers, or other materials that will support an assignment or an in-class activity. In-class activities could include a document analysis exercise and/or transcription project. This lesson would teach students the research skills of close analysis and synthesis of primary sources.

  3. Using Digital Collections: Collaboratively teach a lesson built around an entire digital collection that helps students contextualize a single primary source relative to the collection overall, introduces metadata and questions of ethics within digital archives, and encourages students to consider the differences between physical objects and digital surrogates. 

  4. Supporting an Assignment: Collaboratively teach 3 or more scaffolded lessons that integrate Archives/Special Collections into course learning outcomes.  Assignments may be short-term or could entail a semester-long project (individual or group/partner-based). Deliverables may be a blog post, website, exhibit, or something else entirely.

  5. Mock Exhibition: Prior to class students look at a collection of objects. In small group breakout sessions, they brainstorm common themes. Each group chooses one theme to structure an exhibition around and selects the three objects that best fit with the theme. They then answer questions to assist in describing the objects and connect them with the theme of the exhibition and their course. The group chooses a spokesperson to promote their exhibit to the class. In groups or as a follow-up activity, students write exhibit labels for those three objects.

We look forward to seeing you and your students on the 10th floor of Atkins -- no white gloves required!  For more information or to schedule a session, contact Instruction Archivist Randi Beem (