Teaching and Learning at the Burns Library

Recently, the Burns Library has been making large strides in integrating special collections materials into the Boston College Curriculum. During the Fall 2012 and Spring 2013 semesters, we've reached 25 classes and 950 students here at Boston College. A significant number of students know how to find the Burns Library, have learned about the kinds of materials available and are now more familiar with how to do research in a special collections library.

As a result of our efforts, we've developed two very successful instructional models. These models, along with a few examples and learning goals, are described in more detail below. However, the models listed are only a few examples of how Burns Library materials can be used in a classroom setting. For an informative and visually appealing example of how students have used Burns Library materials in the classroom, visit the exhibit Making History Public: Books Around the World 1400 - 1800, in the History Department, Stokes 3rd Floor South. This exhibit was curated and organized by Professor Virginia Reinburg's Fall 2012 HS600 students, in collaboration with the Boston College University Libraries.

Exhibit Field Trip

A faculty member works with a Burns staff member to choose items (books and/or manuscripts) that would be suitable for display in an exhibit case located in the Burns Library. Professors write an assignment based on the materials in this exhibit. Students either visit the Burns Library independently to complete this assignment and/or come as a group led by the faculty member or their Graduate Teaching Assistants. This method proved an effective way to reach hundreds of students that smaller spaces in Burns would not otherwise be able to accommodate.

Learning Goals:

  • Students become familiar with different formats of materials held by special collections, e.g. letters, books, diaries etc.
  • Faculty members serve as ambassadors to special collections by advocating student use of special collections materials.
  • Faculty members and students learn that the Burns Library has primary source material that supports their research.

Recent Examples:

  • In Fall 2012, Sarah Ross's History 035 CORE class looked at books that illustrated the history of bookmaking, printing and science.
  • In Spring 2013, Stacey Barone's Introduction to Professional Nursing class looked at Florence Nightingale letters and memorabilia from the Josephine A. Dolan Collection of Nursing History.
  • In Spring 2013, Thomas Dodman's class looked at letters from famine Ireland in the Prendergast Family Correspondence.

Customized Class Session

A faculty member or graduate student instructor works with a Burns staff member to select Burns materials that are most relevant to his/her course content. The session's structure, content and length are built by the faculty member and the Burns staff member and can often be reused if the course is taught again. These sessions usually include a general introduction to archival research, how to do research at Burns, and the collections at the Burns Library.

Learning Goals:

  • Students learn how to use Holmes to search for Burns Library materials.
  • Students learn to distinguish between primary and secondary sources.
  • Students learn the policies and procedures they need to follow when doing research in the Burns Library Reading Room.
  • Guided by the faculty member and/or Burns staff member, students learn to examine special collections materials (archival documents, books, etc.) analytically.

Recent Examples:

  • In Fall 2012, Jim O'Toole's HS300 "Boston College at 150" class used digital resources (Heights, Sub Turri and the BC Catalog) as well as University Archives materials to write papers on various aspects of the history of Boston College.
  • In Fall 2012, Holly Vande Wall's History of Science Class looked at important books from the history of science.
  • In Spring 2013, Owen Stanwood's HS300 "Europe and the Age of 'Discovery'" class examined geographical works from 1400 - 1800.
  • In Spring 2013, Lauren Ravalico's RL455 "Exoticism, Ethnography, Empire" class perused 18th and 19th century books by authors Volney, Lamartine and Flaubert.

If you have questions or are interested in building a special collections component for a class, then e-mail us at burnsref@bc.edu. You can also find more information about the Burns Library on the Burns Libguide, which includes the Using Burns Materials in Classes document. In addition, you can connect with the Burns Library online by viewing our Flickr photostream, reading our blog or "liking" our page on Facebook.

Justine E. Sundaram
Senior Reference Librarian/Bibliographer
John J. Burns Library