Library Engagement through Classroom Collaborations

Creating and integrating unexpected learning experiences into the classroom can help bring class topics to life in new and exciting ways. At the William H. Hannon Library, we facilitate these experiences through the class visits to our Archives and Special Collections. We encourage students to interact with objects, both physical and digital, at all stages of the research process, from creation to preservation to critical analysis, helping them to situate their work in a larger historical narrative.

Archives and Special Collections in the Classroom

LMU is a Catholic institution with Jesuit and Marymount heritage, based in Los Angeles. Our collections bring students closer to the rich history of our locations and heritage, from archival documents related to the history of Los Angeles, to vestments used by a prominent Californio family in the late 19th century, to 20th century postcards. We encourage classes to reflect on the social, cultural, and economic issues related to our collections in their instruction session with librarians.

 students examining vestmenst
Students explore the Del Valle vestments collection.

In a spring course taught by an LMU professor of costume design, and in collaboration with an external art conservator, we led a small group of LMU students as they worked with several sets of California mission-era liturgical garments donated by the Del Valle family. The Del Valles were a prominent Californio family in the early 19th century who played a significant role in the early history of Los Angeles from the Mexican period through California’s transition to statehood. The students learned the history of Alta California’s Spanish missions, and the nomenclature for and liturgical symbolism of the vestments, through hands-on work with our collections. The students additionally learned how to describe, surface clean, and re-house the garments, noting their condition and preparing them for future digitization.

Courses also have the opportunity to dive deeply into special collections and create exhibitions for our archives and special collections gallery. The most recent class to take on this challenge was History 2910, “Telling History in Public” in Fall 2019. In this course, students were tasked with taking a critical look at LMU’s own history with its mission of the “promotion of justice” through the lens of our University Archives. As the exhibit description explains:

“An examination of LMU history shows that the university has often taken noble and principled stances on social justice issues. But there have also been some issues where students’ and the university’s understandings of justice have not always aligned. The “Promoting Social Justice?” exhibition seeks to complicate the LMU narrative, by showcasing how LMU has sought to define itself in relation to important social justice issues, including highlighting commonalities and differences between students and administrators. By grappling with our own history, we can better live our mission in the present and future.”

The exhibit was on display in the library for Spring 2020, and also available in an online format, with essays by students incorporating archival photographs, primary sources, and secondary sources to look at these instances of LMU history within their local and global context.

With the start of COVID-19, our Archives and Special Collections were inaccessible for a period of time, but the librarians and staff still found ways to bring our collections to students and faculty. We partnered with one faculty member to incorporate object analysis into their course weekly, comparing between digital images and physical artifacts, images of facsimiles and original objects within the LMU collection, book illustrations and metal objects meant to be worn, and how all of these are useful for research and costume design. As the faculty member noted: “This is a great way to teach primary versus secondary research using the various types of objects dress historians and costume designers refer to for research and inspiration.”

Information Literacy Comics in the Classroom

As any librarian knows, library instruction can be at turns terrifying and boring for students, but it is usually not… illustrated? For students in one communication studies course, “Introduction to Research in Communication Studies,” the library instruction session became a core piece of their creative coursework. Students were tasked with describing the process of writing a literature review by creating a comic about their experience, based on what they learned from our instruction session and related LibGuide. Requiring students to describe their research visually is a unique and engaging way of encouraging students to formally conceptualize what is both a personal and repetitious process. It helps them process and reflect on their own research fears, mistakes, or triumphs.

We aim to increase our collaboration with faculty and other campus units in promoting and assessing information literacy proficiencies. (Library Strategic Objective 1.2)

In the following semester, we coordinated an exhibition of the students’ comic strips. We also featured them in our Digital Commons and on the library website. Moreover, we partnered with the same faculty instructor to publish an open access text, “The Myth of the Student Hero and the ‘Dreaded Lit Review’” featuring some of the student comics and an analysis of those comics in the light of classical mythological storytelling. As the faculty member explains, “I use their stories, which are created as comics, or ‘comix’ (a ‘mix’ of words and images), to show how students’ comix portray their pursuit of knowledge as a heroic narrative, a myth of combat and conquest, a myth of becoming.”

Digital Humanities in the Classroom

students researching in the southern california archive
LMU faculty and students exploring the Southern California Archive.

Since Fall 2014, we have intentionally worked to incorporate digital scholarship into LMU teaching and scholarship.

The Digital Watts Project, the creation of a graduate-level English class taught in summer of 2016 in collaboration with the library, focused on the 1965 Watts Uprising. The students in the class worked with the Southern California Library to make available primary sources intended to expand the narrative around the events of 1965 and to situate them in a broader context of the history of race and racism in Los Angeles. In collaboration with English faculty, we designed a class that drew on literary texts, history, information science, as well as a number of speakers with disciplinary expertise and firsthand experience to inform the generation of metadata for this project. This project, rooted in the local history of Los Angeles, helped students gain a perspective on the relationships between archives, community, and ownership.

Our digital scholarship efforts also led to partnerships with other courses, such as the Spring 2019 course “Digital Humanities and the Anthropocene,” co-designed and co-taught with another professor of English. This course engaged upper-division undergraduate and graduate students in digital humanities work through projects grounded in the study and analysis of literary texts. Students developed research skills using digital tools (including textual analysis tools and mapping tools) and integrated quantitative methods with qualitative analysis and close reading. Their individual and collaborative projects explored themes including networks mapping and power; the environmental impact of digital technologies; and literature, theory, and ecology in the Anthropocene era.

Additional Collaborations in the Classroom

  • The “2nd Annual Citation Roundtable: The Politics of Citation,” inspired students to think about the implications of research practices as they developed their understanding of social justice and their responsibility as advocates for themselves and others. This event was a partnership with a Rhetorical Arts faculty member, with a panel consisting of student, faculty, and staff panelists and an external library director. The event was supported by a number of units around campus, including University Core Curriculum, Chicano Latino Student Services, LMU First to Go, Academic Resource Center, Center for Teaching Excellence, and the Bellarmine College Office of Engaged Learning.
  • For the LMU Computer Science Summer Institute Extension Program, we combined instruction about searching in Google Scholar for scholarly and discipline specific sources with an activity about algorithmic bias in Google Search images and autocomplete results, based on “Algorithms of Oppression: How Search Engines Reinforce Racism,” by Safiya Umoja Noble.
  • Inspired by a request from international students in the Summer Undergraduate Research Program (SURP), we developed “Open Access: Strategies and Tools for Life after College,” a workshop intended to teach about open access, paywalls, and information privilege. The attendees learned about open access scholarship and how to search in open access tools to find research content once their university access to library resources ends.

The library works with faculty from the humanities, the fine arts, and the sciences to create classroom experiences that transcend the boundaries of academic disciplines. Faculty acknowledge and welcome the exceptional and specific skills that librarians bring to the classroom experience, utilizing both the information and human resources we provide. As a result, students engage with a variety of information resources as scholars, recognizing their role in the creation, dissemination, and interpretation of these objects.

This article was first published in our 2021 ACRL Excellence in Academic Libraries Award dossier. For more information about the William H. Hannon Library, please contact John Jackson, Head of Outreach & Communications.