Archives in the Outfield: An Intern’s Perspective of Archival Instruction

As a graduate student with both specializations in Music Librarianship and Archives and Records Management, I am fortunate to study at an institution that prides itself on maintaining and preserving records not only from its history, but from culturally diverse and historically significant events as well. This semester, I had the opportunity to work as an intern at the IU Archives under the supervision of the Outreach and Public Services Archivist, Carrie Schwier and Archives Director, Dina Kellams. The ability to get lost in the boxes containing the university’s history allows me to forge a deeper connection with IU history, the campus, and the community.

When one thinks of an archives, perhaps it conjures to mind images of dark basements, dusty books and boxes, cobwebs clinging to the rafters and tall bookcases, and the archivists who swear their lives to protect the secrets of the universe and lock away the true meaning of life. Of course, that is not always the case, the IU Archives is actually located on the 4th floor of Wells Library and not in the basement. And while the archivists do protect the secrets of the universe, their biggest priority is providing access. It is of the utmost importance that while collections are being collected and preserved, they are able to be used by researchers and made available and accessible to the public.

Archives house primarily paper records but also hold items such as books, photographs, music, posters, clothes, and sometimes objects! But once we have access to these materials, how do we properly utilize them to fully incorporate them into our research? At the end of February, Carrie and I combined forces to teach a 75 minute undergraduate History of Baseball class of about 50 students about archives and its value for their research. When I was an undergrad myself, I had the opportunity to give a brief introduction to archives to another undergraduate class, but this was my first teaching experience in which I had to give that introduction, create an activity, and lead a discussion. It was nerve-wracking, to say the least, but I was excited to take the lead and hopefully instill a new interest in archives for some of the students.

For the activity, Carrie and I selected items from collections pertaining to the history of baseball at IU and I chose to focus on the stories of Leonard Ruckelshaus and Eddie Whitehead. Ruckelshaus was a member of the IU baseball team who had the opportunity to travel abroad to Japan and compete against the Waseda University team in 1922. His collection includes his handwritten diary of the trip, his personal scrapbook, photographs, and his team sweater.

Eddie Whitehead was the first African American to play on the IU baseball team in 1956. The team did a tour through the South in which Eddie was not allowed to play, eat, or stay with the team in their accommodations.

Vintage black and white photograph of IU baseball team
Indiana University Baseball team photo from 1956, IU Archives image no. P0052289

For the “Think-Pair-Share” activity, I split the group into two teams and within those teams, two groups. Each group was given 4-6 items that represented one side to the story; for Ruckelshaus, it was the student vs chaperone/administrative perspectives and for Whitehead, it was his perspective vs the administrative and public reaction, which included a highly offensive and deeply racist letter. Each mini-group would have to “think” and ask questions about the items that the other mini-group would (hopefully) have the answers to, and together they would “pair” up back together to create the full story. At the end, they would “share” what they found with the class and be open for discussion. Because of the class size (neither the IU Archives or Wells Library has a classroom space to hold 50 students), after about 35 minutes the students swapped to another room in the Wells Library for a second activity lead by Carrie and vice versa. I then repeated the activity with the second group of students.

Upon reflection, there were a lot less dead eyes, slack jaws, and crickets chirping than I had originally anticipated, which I consider a complete success! The students were engaged, not only with me, but with each other and with Mary Mellon, the Digital Archivist, who was with me in the classroom for physical, mental, and spiritual support. They asked questions and challenged what they saw, some were curious and found small little things that they just thought were cool. The goal of the activity was to show that when participating in archival research, there is so much you can glean from beyond the physical item itself. There are questions that need to be asked and answered and history to be contextualized that can bring a deeper meaning other than “this is a letter.” And with those questions and answers, you create a sort of paper trail that will lead you down new avenues of your research. I hope the students walked away with at least a small seed of inspiration and understanding for their future projects and how archives could be used. After teaching the class, I found myself rather enjoying the aspect of not only interacting with the collections in that way but telling people about them as well! There are so many untold stories, and so much tea to spill, as it were. My biggest enemy was my running out of time, but I’m sure improving that skill only comes with experience and practice, which I certainly hope I’ll have much more of.

Behind the Curtain (Work from Home Edition): Carrie Schwier, Outreach and Public Services Archivist

Tell us about yourself and your work with the IU Archives (including your role and educational background).  

I have worked at the IU Archives on a full-time basis since 2008, first as the Assistant Archivist and now as the Outreach and Public Services Archivist. I have a B.A. in Art History from Hanover College, and an M.A. in Art History and M.L.S. from Indiana University. In my current role I do a little bit of everything, but my core functions include overseeing public services, outreach initiatives, and instruction.  

How did your work change once everything became remote? Was it a smooth or rough transition?   

During the academic year, the bulk of my time is spent collaborating with teaching faculty to design and implement primary source–based instruction sessions and assignments. The IU Archives regularly serves over 30 separate departments across the University including the School of Art and Design, the Media School, the School of Music, the School of Education, and a wide swath of the College of Arts and Sciences ranging from Art History, to Folklore, to History, to Psychology. Prior to mid-March 2020, this always meant that classes visited the IU Archives for hands-on active learning sessions where students evaluated diaries, student publications, and university records based upon the course learning objectives and then often returned to conduct follow up research. As was the case in all sectors of education, after mid-March this was no longer possible and I had to make the rapid shift to online instruction.  

I can’t say that this shift was incredibly smooth, but it was one that I enjoyed as a new challenge. I’ve been interested in exploring remote or asynchronous instruction as an option to support the increasingly large courses (up to 150 students) that I now work with, but I had never had the time to dedicate to learning new methods and technology. The pandemic forced me and for that I’m thankful! This semester, the instruction sessions I’m doing are all virtual but still feel really interactive. For synchronous (live) sessions I lean on Zoom breakout rooms to facilitate small group discussion, and tools such as Padlet, Google Jamboard, and Google Drive to facilitate student interaction with our collection. For asynchronous sessions I’ve developed a set of Video tutorials using Kaltura to walk student through how to access our collection remotely and lean on LibGuides and Google forms.

How has your work environment changed (ie the view, new “office assistants” such as pets, kids, etc.)?    

Personally, this has been one of my favorite changes. While I enjoy my co-workers, I work in an open office environment that can be distracting when I’m trying to focus on tasks such as writing or planning. While my husband is also working from home, we are privileged to have enough space that we can work from separate parts of the house. Now my main distractions have fur. Our cat Ollie and our 1 year old pup Lucy frequently think they need food, cuddles, and walks (just the dog though on that). Additionally, my home office space has 3 windows which is a wonderful change from the painted concrete block of my workspace in the archives. These are going to be a HUGE asset over the cold dark winter when I usually only see daylight on the weekends. The main downside is that working from home my entire day is spent in front of a screen, whereas when I was back in the office screen time was broken up by helping patrons in our reading room, working with students in the classroom, looking through a collections, or in person meetings.  

What do you think are some of the advantages or silver-linings of working remotely? Disadvantages?  

There are some parts of my job that seem to be working better in a remote environment. For example, undergraduates seem more comfortable reaching out to me after instruction sessions for individualized research consultations. While these were always available in person before, I think the move to holding these over Zoom has actually broken down some barriers. Plus in a remote environment we can share screens to talk through discovery tools, they can easily record the conversation so that they can go back and listen later, etc. I think this is definitely something that will become part of our regular offerings once we return to onsite work full time. I’m also really appreciating the increased opportunities for remote professional development. On the downside, I do really miss the conversations that inevitably happen with colleagues in the hallways between meetings. I feel like those are the times when the best ideas for cross-departmental collaboration happen.  

What are some projects and activities that you were able to focus on that were second thoughts with in-person work?   

As I mentioned above, the move to remote work really forced me to rethink and get creative about the way that I do my work and over the last several months I’ve been forced to dedicate time to my own professional development and learning new things so that I can adapt. I’ve found this to be a fun and energizing challenge. I learned a TON from the Teaching with Primary Sources (TPS) Community through participating in and helping to plan the TPS Community Calls and the TPS Unconference

What has been your favorite remote project to work on?   

My colleague Maureen Maryanski (Lilly Library) and I recently wrapped up a study for Ithaka S+R about Teaching with Primary Sources with the goal of identifying and developing recommendations for supporting this work at the local level. Prior to lockdown, we interviewed 15 instructors at Indiana University who regularly integrate primary sources into their curriculum and over the spring and summer we coded the transcripts and then wrote a report on our findings. The report covers four general themes we identified during the course of the study: The Importance of Teaching with Primary Sources (including educational equity and increased student engagement), Learning to Teach with Primary Sources (including mentorship and learning from librarians and archivists), challenges with Discovery and Access, and Physical Primary Sources and Collaboration (see the full report here). 

What are the aspects of remote work that you hope to carry over to when in-person work returns?   

While the IU Archives still isn’t open to the public, most of the full-time staff has been going in once or twice a week for some time in order to help remote researchers and to support instruction. That said I doubt that our staff will be back in the office full-time for some time. Overall I hope that the option of remote work continues to be an option (at least occasionally) even once things return to “normal.”  I find that I’m less distracted at home and that I have more space to think creatively. I also feel like it’s easier to eat healthy when I don’t have to brown-bag it every day, plus at home I have a dog to motivate me to take a walk every day at lunch!  

Outside of work, what are some pastimes that you have started up and are bringing you joy during this time?   

We got our pup Lucy in January right before lockdown and we’ve been spending lots of time with her – we did a remote Zoom training series of classes in March and April (that was a challenge) and we’ve been going on lots of walks and to the dog park. During the warmer months we spent a lot of time gardening and hiking and I now I find myself moving to cooking, puzzles and books. I’ve also been enjoying Zoom cocktail dates with old friends I haven’t seen in person in years because we live all across the country.