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Teaching with Special Collections

Special Collections librarians are here to help you incorporate rare materials research and primary source literacy instruction into your teaching, whether as a brief guest lecture, a class session, reference assistance during student projects, or a full-blown series of workshops.

Please note: the stair lift that provides ADA access to 4 West is not reliable. Please let us know if you have mobility concerns, and we will schedule your class session on an accessible floor in the library. Contact the MU ADA Coordinator with any concerns.

Teaching Philosophy

Our approach to teaching is based in three main tenets:

Primary source literacy. The materials in Special Collections come from many times and places, ranging from Mesopotamia in 4000 BCE to Columbia, Missouri in the 21st century. To use these materials effectively, students need to develop primary source literacy, i.e., "the combination of knowledge, skills, and abilities necessary to effectively find, interpret, evaluate, and ethically use primary sources." To help students develop this awareness, we provide support through in-class presentations and reference outside of class.

Materiality. Texts do not exist in the abstract but are always vested in a physical carrier. By examining the items in Special Collections as artifacts, students can learn more about the transmission and reception of information, particularly how readers engage with and adjust the texts that they encounter. By giving students a chance for responsible hands-on experience, they develop a connection with the past and learn about the ways different civilizations and cultures have stored and transmitted their knowledge.

Diversity and inclusion. Special Collections’ holdings reflect a diverse range of genres and media produced by authors from a wide array of backgrounds and perspectives. We seek to provide an inclusive perspective by drawing on materials that highlight the presence (and absence) of historically marginalized and oppressed voices. Highlighting these issues is important to ensure that students receive a multi-faceted perspective on our holdings as part of the history of both MU and the wider world.

Learning Objectives

Special Collections teaching is guided by the RBMS/SAA Guidelines for Primary Source Literacy. Our learning objectives fall under five major categories:

  • Conceptualize: Students learn to distinguish between primary and secondary sources and draw upon that distinction to refine research questions.
  • Find and Access: Students learn to identify potential sources within the historical record and locate them for their own use.
  • Read, Understand, and Summarize: Students learn to identify salient points about primary sources and understand their importance for the historical record and their projects.
  • Interpret, Analyze, and Evaluate: Students learn to place primary sources in their original context and evaluate how best to use them.
  • Use and Incorporate: Students learn to use primary sources in their projects while respecting privacy rights and cultural contexts.