To the Benefit of Both: Academic Librarians Connect with Middle School Teachers through a Digitized History Resources Workshop

By Shires, Nancy P. | Information Technology and Libraries, September 2005 | Go to article overview

To the Benefit of Both: Academic Librarians Connect with Middle School Teachers through a Digitized History Resources Workshop


Shires, Nancy P., Information Technology and Libraries


A workshop sponsored by the North Carolina Collection at East Carolina University to familiarize middle school teachers with the Eastern Carolina Digital History Exhibits and provide lesson plans for the site revealed (1) the need for teachers and librarians to work more closely together in tire design and use of new digital history resources and (2) the benefits of cooperative efforts. Although tire K-12 community generally welcomes digital resources, teachers face important challenges, such as redesigning the curriculum. What tire teachers had to say, as well as a few other unexpected findings, proved beneficial to tire librarians in creating sites. Small workshops were shown to be useful to both teachers and librarians.

Librarians Connect Naturally with Educators

Academic librarians are actively digitizing their unique historical records, and, like other digitizers, have always recognized the K-12 community as natural and immediate users of their sites. Digitizers "know the value of their materials and believe that they will benefit the classroom." (1) They see easier and wider access for students and more active involvement with history, for example, as a way to benefit poorer schools as well as richer ones. Academic librarians in public and land-grant institutions may, in fact, have a legal obligation to serve the schools. (2) These institutions were founded to provide broad educational opportunities to the general population and, in order to receive funding, are required to practice openness, accessibility, and service in their operations.

Larger academic libraries and other larger cultural institutions were the first to offer their unique resources and primary documents on the Internet, but digital-history initiatives and projects no longer reside only with them. Digitizing projects are growing "from a trickle ... to a cascade." (3)

The increase in digitizing, however, does not automatically mean that librarians understand the need or uses for their products in the classroom. In fact, most librarians have only general and informal knowledge of what teachers actually do with their digitized historical sites or whether they know about them or use them at all. About this situation, Cherry writes: "If the caretakers of cultural-heritage materials are serious about serving the K-12 community ... then they must know their K-12 audience better." (4)

There is no doubt that teachers will continue to seek these sites. Some states now mandate the use of primary resources and technology in the classroom, which means that schools must look to acquire these. Digitized resources help teachers meet state requirements without great cost to the schools. Public schools and their media centers or libraries are, of course, greatly limited in resources, funding, and space. A typical media-center history collection might consist in the main of biographies and a reference section with historical-biographical dictionaries and encyclopedias--including specialized ones covering such groups as African American women--for the broad range of historical periods. In addition to these materials, the libraries usually offer access to the Internet and thus to sites with relevant primary documents, often through special low-cost, state-sponsored programs and sometimes through grants. It is into this extension of the school libraries' actual resources that academic-library digital sites fall.

In addition, teachers generally "want students to place a higher value on those (Web sites) that are sponsored by universities, museums, or faculty." (5) They are looking to academic librarians, among others, to develop high-quality, usable, classroom-relevant sites. Although this article describes academic-library sites, it will be useful to other digitizers, such as museums and historical societies, because they, too, potentially serve the K-12 audience.

A look at the education literature and at our own experience with a workshop for teachers supports the idea that, in spite of what is known about the K-12 classroom, librarians involved in digitizing do indeed need to work more closely with practicing classroom teachers. …

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