20-21 LTS Annual Report

Virtualizing guided tours of historical artifacts: Remote teaching in Special Collections The early weeks of COVID-19 saw a lot of gearshifting for the Lehigh Libraries. Like restaurant food orders, we switched to curbside book pickup. Like Netflix relaxing limits on streaming, we expanded access to library resources online. Even water cooler conversations found an alternative home on Slack. But how do you teach courses with unique physical materials that—until the pandemic forced all classes remote—had to be seen, touched, and appreciated in person? There’s nothing like hands-on—or is there? In fall 2020, with classes continuing to be taught virtually due to the pandemic, Lehigh Libraries Special Collections curator Lois Black faced an unusual challenge—how to share cultural collections, encompassing rare books, manuscripts, archives, ephemera and myriad other formats housed in Linderman Library— with students, faculty and the research community remotely. Lehigh’s Special Collections has a long history of generating interest and enthusiasm for the artifact in the classroom and satisfying students’ creative curiosity. But all that magic happens in person. “Physical historical and distinctive collections traditionally do not circulate outside the library,” Black said. “And digital surrogates aren’t available for all materials.” "An important component of student engagement is to bring the 'wow factor' to our classes by giving students the opportunity to closely view—and even touch—some of our most valued materials,” said Alex Japha, digital archivist for Special Collections. “We had to figure out how to translate that same wonder to the virtual realm.” To ensure that Special Collections would be able to manifest the materiality of printed and archival collections, Black and other Lehigh curators, librarians, and archivists brainMILTON IN THE SPOTLIGHT All of this newfound training and expertise was put to the test in September when Special Collections hosted a course on poet John Milton, taught by associate professor of English Jenna Lay. Lay consulted with Special Collections staff to curate the materials needed for her class, then staged them in advance to coincide with the order in which those materials would be discussed and analyzed. Using Zoom technology, Lay guided students through books and other materials assembled by librarians stationed on campus in Linderman’s Bayer Galleria. Depending on the number of materials needed for display during class sessions, there could be multiple computers connected to web cameras. “While students were unable to page through books themselves, they were able to engage with the material history of early modern literature through the document camera, and with the expert facilitation of Special Collections staff,” Lay says. Students told her how much they enjoyed the opportunity to see one of the earliest printings of Paradise Lost, she says, and to better understand “in the most 21st century way,” how 17th-century readers would have encountered it. UNEXPECTED ADVANTAGES For her course, Lands of the Midnight Sun, associate professor of earth and environmental sciences Joan Ramage said she planned to bring her first-year seminar in person to Linderman Library and Special Collections to see the beautiful spaces and fascinating original works housed there. stormed with local and national colleagues and faculty, most notably with TPS Collective, a collaborative of librarians, archivists, teachers and cultural heritage professionals who teach with primary sources. Black said these discussions were invaluable in defining best practices, imagining innovative approaches to remote and asynchronous teaching, and building a toolkit for virtual work. T E A C H I N G & L E A R N I N G 8 | L I BRARY AND TECHNOLOGY SERV I CES