2016 Award for Research

“Using Primary Sources: Hands-On Instructional Exercises”

Anne Bahde, Rare Books and History of Science Librarian, Special Collections and Archives Research Center, Oregon State University
Nominated by: Annelise Sklar, Social Sciences Collection Coordinator, University of California, San Diego

Students examining a type case. Photo by Mary Knox Merrill, courtesy of Northeastern University.

The 2016 Primary Source Award in Research recognizes the book Using Primary Sources, Hands-On Instructional Exercises, published by Libraries Unlimited in 2015. The book was co-edited by Anne Bahde, Oregon State University, Heather Smedberg of the University of California, San Diego, and Mattie Taormina, previously at Stanford University and now at the Sutro Library in San Francisco. This monograph, aimed at special collections librarians, archivists, faculty, and museum professionals, surveyed innovative methods to promote the successful use of primary sources in student research. 

After noticing a dearth of tools to assist in effectively teaching the use of special collections, the three academic librarians solicited a broad range of examples from their peers. They selected 30 exercises for this study, representing a variety of materials formats (including postcards, maps, legal documents, and digital files), designated audiences (K–12 to college students), and instructors’ roles (librarians, professors, museum professionals). The book is divided into two sections: the first part provides examples of “classic” primary source materials (asking students to identify the type of primary source, its provenance, and intended audience); and the second part explores innovative exercises “that delve deeper into the sources.”

Detail from Sanborn Fire Insurance Map of Burlington, Vermont, 1919. Courtesy of Prudence Doherty

An important criterion for selecting the case studies was their demonstrated capacity to promote student-centered learning. For each example the editors include specific learning objectives, suggestions for customizing the exercises, and guidelines for assessment. Issues explored include research ethics, the role of privacy in archives, and the uses of surrogates (facsimile copies). Ultimately the editors acknowledge two core values desirable for students of all ages to develop: “archival intelligence” and “artifactual literacy.”

One CRL award reviewer noted: “This is a work of scholarship into the pedagogy of using primary source collections. It was developed using a rigorous methodology to surface and describe best practices within the community. It is of high value to anyone seeking to integrate primary sources, especially special collections, into teaching and learning environments.”