ACRL IS Current Issue Discussion Digest –ALA Annual 2017

Title:   Teaching from the Archives: Creating Student -Centered Instruction with Archival Materials

Discussion Conveners: Jill M. Borin, Reference Librarian and University Archivist and Molly M. Wolf, Reference Librarian and Sexuality Archivist, Widener University.

June 24, 2017 | 4:30pm – 5:30pm
Chicago, IL | Hilton Chicago, Buckingham Room

Jill Borin and Molly Wolf are librarians and archivists at Widener University in Chester, Pennsylvania with 32 years of teaching experience between them.  Widener is unique as it houses two distinct archives: the University Archives, which preserves the history of institution from 1821 to the present and the Sexuality Archives, which is dedicated to preserving the history of sexuality, sexology, and sexuality education.  Both archives are rich in a variety of primary sources.  Ms. Borin and Mrs. Wolf have recognized the potential to utilize these primary sources to enrich their information literacy instruction.

There is an increased demand in higher education to foster students’ critical thinking skills.  Research indicates that interacting with primary archival sources represents an effective method for helping students develop these critical thinking skills (Carini 2016; Robyns 2001).  This kind of instruction also encourages students to become independent learners.  Information literacy instruction has at its foundation the development of critical thinking skills.  In fact, the main goal of this instruction is to teach students how to critically analyze and evaluate information.  This will then prepare them to more effectively navigate the information they encounter on their own in the future.  As a result of their training in information literacy instruction, these librarians realized the exciting potential that would result from incorporating archival materials and primary sources into a new approach to information literacy instruction at their institution.  They recognized that this approach could help students improve both their critical thinking and information literacy skills.

Currently, Ms. Borin and Mrs. Wolf are in the process of creating a curriculum for a 1 credit information literacy class using primary source archival materials.  This dynamic student-centered class will incorporate project-based learning, providing students with the opportunities to develop valuable life-long information literacy skills as well as more comprehensive understanding than can usually be provided in a one-shot session.  With access to rich primary source materials from both the University and Sexuality Archives, Ms. Borin and Mrs. Wolf, can provide value-added instruction while fostering a deeper understanding of the unique interactions between the history of the institution and the history of human sexuality.

Digital Exhibit “Intersections – Sexuality and University Archives Together” 

Teaching from the Archives_presentation

The goal of this Current Issues Discussion Forum is to facilitate a dialog about using primary sources in information literacy instruction. Participants will share personal experiences and best practices, as well as begin to formulate standards for this type of instruction.

 Discussion Questions:

  1. In your opinion, what is the value of using archival documents/ primary sources in information literacy instruction?
  2. How have you incorporated archival documents/primary sources into your teaching? If you have not, how do you plan to incorporate archival documents/primary sources into your teaching in the future?
  3. What were your challenges and successes with incorporating archival documents/primary sources into your teaching?
  4. What one activity did your students enjoy the most?
  5. What are the standards that you would create to guide this kind of instruction?

Recommended Reading:

 Carini, Peter. 2016. “Information Literacy for Archives and Special Collections: Defining Outcomes.” portal: Libraries and the Academy 16(1): 193-208.  doi:

Daniels, Morgan, and Elizabeth Yakel. 2013. “Uncovering Impact: The Influence of Archives on Student Learning.” Journal of Academic Librarianship 39 (5): 414-422. doi:

Krause, Magia G. 2010. “‘It Makes History Alive for Them’: The Role of Archivists and Special Collections Librarians in Instructing Undergraduates.” Journal of Academic Librarianship 36(5): 401-411. doi:

Robyns, Marcus C. 2001. “The Archivist as Educator: Integrating Critical Thinking Skills into Historical Research Methods Instruction.” American Archivist 64 (2): 363-384. doi:

Yakel, Elizabeth, and Deborah A. Torres. 2003. “AI: Archival Intelligence and User Expertise.” American Archivist 66(1): 51-78. doi:




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