Undergraduates in the Archives – Werner 4
4What are some of the challenges you have encountered?
Undergraduate Program Director – Folger Shakespeare Library
¶ 1 Leave a comment on paragraph 1 0 The first set of challenges is logistical. Bringing students into the Library changed some of the Library’s usual operating procedures and has made me adjust some of my own habits of teaching. The Undergraduate Program was the first time the Library allowed undergraduates into the Library to conduct research in any sort of ongoing basis. (There is an established fellowship for Amherst students that brings two or three students down to do research at the Library for a couple of weeks each year, but the intense use of rare materials and the duration of the fellowship are significantly different from the structure of the Undergraduate Seminars.) Even though the Library was supportive of my program and eager to help adjust policy, understandably there was some concern about how needy the students would be: Would they require a lot of supervision? Would they be asking for a lot of assistance? Would they be disruptive to the other readers? (The answer to all of these is no. In part because of the intensive training they receive in the classroom about how to handle books and how to find the resources they need, the students are in many ways better prepared to work in the Reading Rooms than many others!) There were also procedural questions that needed to be resolved. Before my program, rare materials were not routinely brought into the Library’s classrooms and were never handled by non-staff members in classrooms. Putting together a new policy on classroom use (how many items, how they could and could not be handled, the number of staff members necessary to supervise, etc.) was vital. And it was not difficult, thanks to the supportive curatorial staff. I did have to adjust my own teaching style. My preference is to decide what I am going to do in any given class as I go along. I might decide to try a particular approach the day before class, if my sense of how the class is proceeding suggests it. But I cannot decide at the last minute to bring a set of rare books into the seminar room because curators need to vet the rare materials in advance. That is not a big obstacle, but it has required me to adjust.
¶ 2 Leave a comment on paragraph 2 0 A bigger challenge has been getting used to not having all the answers. My students come from a wide range of majors: English and history, to be sure, but I have also taught majors in French, theology, art history, music, drama, medieval studies, physics, and economics. And because I let them choose any work that was printed before 1700 for their research project, students often choose works that I have never heard of. What this means is that I need to learn along with them. A student working on Utopia is fairly easy; a student working on a Czech herbal (a book describing plants and their medicinal properties) is a lot harder to guide. But this is also a challenge that is fun and beneficial: if I knew everything, I’d be bored and my students wouldn’t have room for discovery.
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