Collection Development Parternships - Faculty Views
Part 1 of a panel discussion presented by Jim Leloudis, Associate Professor, Department of History, UNC-Chapel Hillapel Hill
I can't claim to know much about the inner workings of libraries or the ways in which librarians make what are becoming increasingly difficult and complex decisions about acquisitions. But that, I suppose, is why I've been invited to be on this panel--so that we can use this session as a first step toward better communication and understanding between faculty and library staff at a time when we have too little money and too many new books, serials, and databases to spend it on.
My charge, as I understand it, is to talk a bit about what faculty want from their libraries, especially as those wants and needs relate to teaching. As I thought about that question, I found my concerns returning again and again to primary sources and the role they play in the ways that we teach not only our graduate students but our undergraduates as well. What I'd like to do is point to three issues related to the growing importance of primary sources in our everyday teaching.
- First of all, it's important to recognize that the character of undergraduate courses is changing. Ten years ago, you could probably have guessed what most undergraduates in the humanities and social sciences were doing. They were buying textbooks, perhaps a few monographs, and those books along with lectures were the sum of their studies. Today, that's changing. In increasing numbers, faculty in a variety of disciplines are revising that old model so that they're sending students out into primary sources--sending them out to wrestle with the process of inquiry as opposed to simply absorbing the end results of that process. Practical examples:
- History 90s -- We now require every undergraduate major to take a focused research seminar. They're called History 90s; we teach 8 to 10 of them every semester; and faculty develop them out of their own research interests. Students in these courses read intensively on a given topic and produce by the end of the semester a 25-30 page paper grounded in original research. The purpose is to give every undergraduate major an opportunity to do history. Other schools and departments are borrowing these ideas. But they will pull it off--and we will continue to pull it off--only with access to a library that provides the necessary raw materials; that is, a rich supply of primary sources.
- This kind of teaching is not limited to specialized seminars, but is increasingly a part of survey courses as well. I teach two of those courses, one on the US since 1865 and the other on NC since 1865, and in both I have students do short research assignments that I call 'digs.' Examples. Again, the point is to give students--many of whom may never take another history course--some idea of how historians go about their work, some idea of what it to study and write about the past. They learn to think historically by actually doing it, as opposed to hearing me talk about it.
My point, then, is that we're teaching in new ways, and that, in turn, is putting new pressures on our libraries, particularly in the area of primary sources.
- That new pressure is also amplified by a second change in teaching, which is the globalization of the curriculum. This university now requires students to take courses in a variety of Third World, non-western areas of study, and within individual departments that kind of requirement is often repeated in the course of study for various majors. As a result, we have a growing number of undergraduates researching and writing about peoples and parts of the world that would hardly have figured in the curriculum a decade ago. But, without adequate library resources, that effort to broaden our teaching can only be pushed so far. That's especially true at the upper level of instruction. I'm the Director of Honors in the History Department--I teach the two-semester sequence for seniors who are undertaking their own original research and writing honors theses--and one of the things I've noticed over the last few years is a sharp increase in the number of students who are interested in working in Asian and Latin American history. But it's not always possible to pursue that interest, sometimes because of students' limited language abilities and sometimes because of limits on the kinds of primary sources that are close to hand. Once again, changes in the curriculum are putting new pressures on the library.
What all of this means, it seems to me, is that we as faculty and librarians need to work together much more closely than ever before. There are scores of wonderful new microfilm compilations of primary sources on the market these days. Which should we buy, and how do we balance those purchases against the acquisition of standard monographs? How, even in the purchase of books, do we define the balance between primary sources and secondary monographs? Example of buying monographs on WWII rather than memoirs--fifty years from now, the former will be dated and the latter will be what teachers and student/researchers most value. And what about the cooperative buying arrangements that have long existed among college and university libraries? They've obviously served us well through the years. How do we ensure that success into the future, and at the same time make these cooperative arrangements more adaptive to the needs of teaching? Example of purchasing the Star of Zion, NC's most important late-19th-century African American newspaper, for UNC even though Duke already owns it. Necessary for undergraduate course-based research. These aren't easy questions, but they do identify areas in which, more than ever, faculty and librarians needs to work together in close partnership.
- The third point I want to make about primary sources has more to do with preservation than acquisition. I'm now sending 100 or more students a year into various special collections to work repeatedly with small clusters of primary sources. That's great for my students, but it's obviously terrible for the sources themselves. Over time, they're simply not going to stand up to that kind of wear and tear. One solution may be for us to work together to digitize some of these materials. It would be wonderful, for example, if I could put some or all of the materials for my dig assignments on a web page dedicated to my course. Students would have 24-hour access to the materials, which would prevent the last-minute rushes that drive the library staff crazy, and the original materials would be protected from overuse and abuse. You can imagine that this sort of arrangement might also address some of the issues that I've raised above, particularly as it becomes possible to subscribe to digitization projects such as Perseus and others. There are a number of such projects underway, some of them on this campus. Clearly, we're charting new territory here; we're feeling our way along. My concern is that as we undertake more and more of these kinds of efforts, we talk together and aim for products that address not only the research scholar but the undergraduate classroom as well. Mention the History Department's Project for Historical Education; possibility of making digitized primary sources available to middle-school and high-school history teachers across the state. Fills a need for such materials that is of great concern to them; a way to both the faculty and the library to pursue the University's mission of public service.
Ten or twenty years ago, libraries--at least in relative terms--had a lot of money and we all more or less knew what undergraduate teaching was about. Under those conditions, librarians and faculty didn't have much need to talk; they more or less understood one another's needs. But those conditions no longer hold; our resources are more strained than ever, and we're in a period of dynamic change in the curriculum. That means, as I've already said, that we need to think creatively about new forms of collaboration, and I do hope that we might make a start here this morning.
© Jim Leloudis, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Last Updated: April 1996