The News @ Western Libraries ---> Heritage Resources
Posted on: Tuesday, November 25, 2014 - 7:55am
The instruction plan for Western Libraries Heritage Resources articulates the goal of ensuring that Western students “are able to find, understand, and interpret a wide variety of research sources in various contexts throughout their lives.” With that in mind, Heritage Resources staff work closely with instructors to meet specific course needs and learning objectives by providing access to a wealth of materials that can enhance, enrich, and enliven research in nearly any subject area.
For example, this past August, a new cohort of Environmental Education graduate students visited Western’s campus and spent time working with archival and primary source materials at the Center for Pacific Northwest Studies (CPNWS). As part of the M.Ed Residency program partnership between the North Cascades Institute (NCI) and Western’s Huxley College of the Environment, these students live at the Environmental Learning Center located in the North Cascades National Park for one year, during which time they are able to immerse themselves in place-based pedagogy.
At the heart of place-based education is the recognition that experiential community-based learning enhances a student’s educational experience by treating the local community as one of the primary sources for teaching and learning. The mission of the CPNWS is to “enhance public and scholarly understanding of the region’s past and present,” and this natural programmatic alignment led Huxley faculty and Heritage Resources staff to recognize an opportunity for collaboration.
In preparation for the on-site visit, Heritage Resources staff arranged a selection of original and archival materials representative of various perspectives of place - including environmental, economic, recreational, and indigenous views - for students to review and analyze. In the Archives Building Research Room, students divided into groups and reviewed the maps, photographs, pamphlets, letters, and other materials. Together they considered issues related to the construction of cultural and regional identity, the evolution of policy, perceptions of concepts such as “conservation” and “wilderness,” and the significance of place names in determining cultural values. Course instructor and NCI Graduate Program Coordinator Joshua Porter posed several challenging questions, which led to lively and interactive class discussions.
“Different resources on each table give you insight in terms of both the media and the policy – How does the creation of information determine the ‘value’ of whatever is being discussed? What is the leverage you have if you are creating these maps? What is your leverage in terms of conveying to the world what matters, what has value, what has meaning?” asked Porter.
Several students questioned what could be the implications for the cultural heritage of a place when traditional native names were removed and replaced with new names. Others pointed out how some of the maps were defined in terms of resource extraction rather than conservation. When looking at the photographs, some students observed how having access to archival materials like these gave them a glimpse into the lives of people from the past, bringing them closer despite the passage of time and changes in cultural contexts. Often these glimpses inspired unexpected insights and additional questions.
“Although there was a lack of reciprocity in terms of resource extraction, it’s also impossible to miss the level of intimacy between the people and the land in these photographs, even if the conservation policy was lacking at that time. It would be so interesting to talk to these people. The photographs capture historical moments as opposed to all of the moments of everyday life. Another mode of inquiry would also be interesting to pursue,” said student Liz Blackman.
After this observation, Roz Koester, Assistant Archivist for Outreach and Instruction for Heritage Resources, was quick to mention the oral histories that are also contained at the CPNWS, and invited Blackman to return if she would like to further explore those personal narratives. Koester explained that oral histories offer an opportunity to hear from the people we are interested in first-hand and in their own words. She also mentioned that sometimes people will begin their research with certain expectations about what they are going to find, but often their perspectives will alter as a result of the information they encounter.
“Exploring these types of complexities is part of the beauty of working with primary sources. You can come to these materials with a bias and that is where you start your inquiry, but the records that are here can present an opportunity to challenge that bias. Original, archival, primary source research offers us insight that can make us challenge our own assumptions, our own points of view. You might be led in a completely different direction than what you originally intended. As archivists, it’s the critical analysis piece that we really want people to get out of this experience,” explained Koester.
The class concluded with Porter leading a discussion about how students and educators can benefit in utilizing the materials offered by Heritage Resources to explore the relationship between how meaning is constructed, how cultural values are expressed, the impact this can have on policy and information creation, and how this in turn affects our own assumptions about both people and place. Porter also pointed out that as environmental educators, the students should remember that no matter where they go once they have completed graduate school, they can use archival and primary source materials to benefit their future teaching and learning practices.
“Moving forward, I really encourage all of us to continue to do research here, but also to keep in mind what resources there are in every community that we enter into in the future, how to sleuth out those resources and how, as educators, we can uses these sources,” stated Porter.
Heritage Resources is a division of Western Libraries which includes the Center for Pacific Northwest Studies, Special Collections, and the University Archives & Records Management. Together the three programs provide for responsible stewardship of unique and archival materials in support of teaching, learning, and research. If you’d like to learn more about the Heritage Resources Instruction Program, or are interested in discussing how Heritage Resources can support your teaching and learning needs, please contact Heritage.Resources@wwu.edu or phone (360) 650-6621.
Posted on: Thursday, June 5, 2014 - 11:40am
Professor Katie Vulić has been bringing her medieval literature classes to Western Libraries Special Collections ever since she first began teaching at Western. For the first several years, Vulić taught students exclusively from copies of original works; Special Collections owns a number of facsimile reproductions of medieval manuscripts that helped her students gain an understanding of the original context and culture of their class texts.
At the same time that she was using these facsimile materials, Vulić was also very interested in finding an opportunity to introduce original materials into her courses so that her students could engage directly with original manuscripts and learn from them firsthand about medieval literary culture.
“One of the goals in using original manuscripts is for students to recognize how hugely different their reading practices are between reading mass-produced, cheap, clean texts versus hard-to-produce medieval luxury goods, the kind where every letter written is its own work of art,” explained Vulić. "Additionally, with the facsimile materials, I could say ‘Here is what is known, here is what has already been discovered.’ With the original materials, I can do that too, but then I can also come back and ask, ‘What can we learn from these materials that is not yet known? What are the differences between medieval reading practices and our own?’”
Last year, Vulić was able to pose these questions to some of her graduate students after she made arrangements to borrow some original manuscript fragments and incunables (early printed books) from Washington State University’s Special Collections for her class to use. These materials were kept in Western Libraries Special Collections, and her graduate students were then able to spend a number of hours over a two-week period working directly with the borrowed materials.
“I had them go the whole nine yards with the manuscript fragments: transcribe passages, prepare a thorough description of their features, and check the existing databases in order to identify what they were. Students did say it was a lot of work but they also really enjoyed it and said I should keep the project going,” stated Vulić.
Though all of the medieval items loaned from Washington State were just individual leaves of parchment separated from their full original manuscripts, students can learn a lot from scraps and fragments. “If a book was taken apart like that, it was often because it was considered commonplace, outdated, or not valuable. Old manuscripts could be used for scrap, or for reinforcing the binding of other more current books. What that means is most of the scraps we can afford and that we see tend to be in Latin and church-related, but one advantage of that is they also tend to be searchable,” explained Vulić.
While some of the manuscript fragments have cataloged information as part of their records, other fragments have very little documented information accompanying them. However, for the fragments that are not searchable, there is still a lot that can be discovered.
“It’s hard to make a huge discovery in just one day, but sometimes we could use context clues to figure things out. And students come away with a real appreciation for the unique methods, challenges and experiences of this profession. They also gain firsthand experience with archival practices and discovering something ‘new’ in an archive, sometimes even contributing quite a lot to existing knowledge. Students are surprised by how hard these materials are to read, but they seem to have a lot of fun with it, as if they are working out puzzles. It’s an opportunity that undergraduates don’t usually have—a chance for them to see and interact with materials that are usually kept behind glass.”
This experience with her graduate students made her think of piloting a similar project in her undergraduate classes, and one year later, Dean of Western Libraries Mark Greenberg helped facilitate another loan of original materials from a rare book dealer with whom he has worked in the past.
Vulić has since used these original manuscript fragments this past quarter in two of her undergraduate classes. She synthesized the highlights of what her graduate class did over a two week period into two days, and Vulić thinks her classes have enjoyed the experience. She noted that access to these materials gives students an enhanced sense of the culture, can correct misinformation from movies, video games, and popular culture, and can help students become more grounded in the time period from which the pieces were produced, while simultaneously creating opportunities for interaction with the original materials about which there might not be a lot of known information.
Vulić explained that while she wished Western Libraries would someday have its own collection of original manuscripts, she also wanted her colleagues to know about the resources available to them that Western Libraries can help provide. She stated that she is always surprised when she meets someone who teaches at Western who has not visited Special Collections.
“It would be lovely if more of our colleagues would take advantage of these resources. I have found it to be fantastic working with library staff. They are always so willing to work with me and to meet my teaching needs. They have always been the best partners in just the best possible ways. I cannot say enough good things about them. For faculty thinking about setting up a new class and using some of these resources, it may take a little work to get things going, but it will be worth it in the long run, and you will always get the support you need from the library!”
Posted on: Friday, April 11, 2014 - 10:14am
Many students and grads spend ample time in Western Libraries, unaware that it is home to a Rare Book Collection with some rather eclectic treasures lingering on the uppermost floor. Rare Books are housed in a climate-controlled storage facility on the 6th floor of the Wilson Library, adjacent to a well-lit, comfortable reading and research room.
Western Libraries seeks to increase both size and awareness of the collection, and has recently formed an advisory group comprised of faculty from the library and several other departments. This group will guide future purchases and acquisitions, assist in identifying donors, and perhaps most importantly, help integrate the collection into the University’s curriculum. The collection’s scope includes art books, regional letterpress and small press, 19th century women’s literature and children’s literature.
Recent acquisitions include an edition of Jorge Luis Borges Book of Sand with woodcuts by local artist Tom Wood. The uniqueness and multidimensionality (book as text, book as object, book as art) of works like this make them rich in teaching and research opportunities. The Rare Book Collection also boasts a luxurious facsimile of Ellesmere’s Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales, original journals of Vancouver, Cook and Lewis and Clark, and numerous rare works of art and literature.
Western Washington is home to several nationally renowned letterpresses that produce books of exceptional quality. Presses like Copper Canyon, Co-op, Brooding Heron, Grey Spider, Wood Works, Egress Studio Press and others are creating books that by their choice of paper, type, binding, size, and content are themselves works of art. Western’s evolving rare book criteria have been enhanced to include vigorous collection of such items. These are often extremely small print runs that go out of stock quickly, and are often poorly preserved. Preserving these books and making them available for instruction are two of the primary goals.
Rare books located in the general circulating shelves are being discovered and relocated into the Rare Book Collection where handling and climate can be regulated. Anyone who would like to help grow this collection either through gifts that include books that fit our collecting criteria, or through monetary donations may contact Paul Piper at 360-650-3097 or firstname.lastname@example.org.