We are excited to announce a new research project designed to support effective teaching with primary sources. Teaching undergraduates with primary sources promotes student engagement and critical thinking skills and is a key ingredient in the current pedagogical push toward “inquiry-based” or “research-led” learning.* Although leveraging physical collections remains important, technological affordances have additionally transformed possibilities for teaching with primary sources: not only by increasing content availability, but by enabling digital discovery, curation, and annotation. The proliferation of born-digital content has also expanded the definition of what primary sources are and how they can be used as evidence.

For the Primary Sources project, we will be partnering with a group academic libraries who are leading the charge to foster this important pedagogical approach. These libraries will work alongside Ithaka S+R to conduct a deep dive into their faculty’s needs and experiences when teaching with primary sources, and identify opportunities for ways that libraries, archives and special collections, and other stakeholders can support this work.

Academic Libraries and Archives: Essential to Primary Source Pedagogical Support

Academic libraries and archives are ideally placed to support faculty teaching with primary sources by drawing on expertise across the organization – from special collections, to subject liaisons, to instruction – and by employing a variety of support models, including resource provision, consultation, and embedded librarianship. Ithaka S+R’s primary sources project builds on a host of existing initiatives, such as the Digital Library Federation’s pedagogy subgroup on Digital Primary Sources, the Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL)/Rare Books & Manuscripts Section (RBMS) and Society of American Archivists (SAA) Joint Task Force on the Development of Guidelines for Primary Source Literacy,  the Association of Research Libraries (ARL) Research Library Impact Framework, and the recent symposium on Teaching Undergraduates with Archives hosted by the University of Michigan Bentley Historical Library. Our project will contribute to this growing community knowledge by centering faculty needs and facilitating cross-institutional collaboration to develop a vision for innovation across the support service landscape.

How will the Ithaka S+R Primary Sources project work?

The Teaching with Primary Sources project builds on the success of the Research Support Services projects across a range of subjects including public health and Asian studies, as well as our Teaching Support Services project in business. But whereas our previous projects have highlighted similarities and differences in faculty practices by discipline, this project will explore a common theme in effective teaching across a variety of fields.

This project will follow our unique collaborative model for the qualitative study of faculty support services. We are gathering a cohort of academic libraries from the US and UK to field research teams. Following a two-day training workshop, research teams will conduct interviews of instructors at their institutions, analyze their findings, and produce reports to recommend local support strategies. Additionally, Ithaka S+R will review these interviews and findings to develop a public capstone report. We will also facilitate dialogue toward cross-institutional collaborations among participating institutions.

Interested in getting involved?

We are thrilled that Bowling Green State University, Brandeis University, Brigham Young University, Brown University, California State University Northridge, Dartmouth College, Illinois Wesleyan University, Indiana University Bloomington, Johns Hopkins University, Lafayette College, Northern Michigan University, Pennsylvania State University, Princeton University, Texas A&M University, University of Arizona, University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, University of Kentucky, University of Miami, University of North Carolina Chapel Hill, University of Pittsburgh, University of Sheffield, University of Southampton, University of Virginia, Washington and Lee University, Williams College, and Yale University will be among the participating institutions for this project. Additionally, we are grateful to ProQuest for sponsoring this research project and contributing to the data collection alongside the participating libraries.

We are seeking additional partner institutions for the Teaching with Primary Sources project and welcome expressions of interest. Looking ahead, we are also planning to launch studies of teaching support services in data literacy, and research support services in psychology and computer and electrical engineering. If you are interested in having your library participate as a research site for the primary sources project or future projects, please email me at rebecca.springer@ithaka.org.


*For an overview of the relevant literature see Magia G. Krause, “‘It Makes History Alive for Them’: The Role of Archivists and Special Collections Librarians in Instructing Undergraduates,” The Journal of Academic Librarianship 36, no. 5 (2010): 401-11, at 401-2.