Sharing insights on student engagement with archives

How can we encourage students to use our collections more? That was the question being considered at a symposium organised by the Association of Performing Arts Collections held at the University of Leeds yesterday. 

One of the speakers mentioned that their hands-on sessions for students proved much more popular when they included cakes inspired by items from the collections! I'm not sure we can provide those, but perhaps we might follow some of the tips suggested by Joanna Baines from the University of Kent. She spoke of students' difficulty with reading handwritten documents or those in unfamiliar Gothic fonts as well as of their anxieties about handling fragile items, but had found a way round these particular problems by focusing on visual material which didn't need to be handled so much as it was mainly flat. To introduce a note of fun into using the University's archives, she considered ways in which greater use might be made of the British Cartoon Archive in their teaching sessions.

One of these was to include examples of theatrical cartoons in a module on Victorian and Edwardian Theatre for second-year drama and theatre students that was taught in their Special Collections reading room. This year's students were invited to pick a character featured in one of the cartoons to research in some detail. They were encouraged to use the primary sources in the University's collections to do so. In the following session, they had to argue in class about why their particular character should be allowed to stay in a hot air balloon.

For their final assessment, the students drew on material from the collections to design and curate an exhibition shown in the Templeton Library's gallery space. They divided into two groups looking at very different topics, one of which looked at how Victorian playwrights responded to the public's fascination with scandalous crimes like the Jack the Ripper murders. The other focused on the establishment of the pantomime tradition at the Theatre Royal in Drury Lane in the late nineteenth century. 

What would encourage you to use the archives at BCU more? Would it be more online resources and guides? Project placements? Workshops on using archives? Including sessions in the archives as part of taught modules? Why not let us know?