Lightning Talk

Session Description

This presentation addresses numerous topics in the fields of librarianship and archives management, including instruction, information and research literacy, and outreach, by presenting a case study where two individuals were highly motivated to collaborate on archival research instruction, but failed due to inefficient communication and assumptions made on both sides. After detailing some of the missteps, this talk will focus on options to improve future collaborations with faculty, such as assignment or syllabus consultation and embedded librarianship, hopefully leading to the practical results of better instruction, assignments, and research process guidance for students working with library resources.

Type of Library

University Library


faculty, archives


May 4th, 3:40 PM May 4th, 3:40 PM

Lost in Translation: Faculty and Archivist Communication

Wampanoag Room

What happens when a partnership with a faculty member seems like a success, only to reveal misunderstandings and difficult repercussions? This talk will discuss lessons learned from a complex collaboration between an archivist and a labor studies instructor to orient a class of graduate students to special collections and archival research. After several conversations, (with some miscommunications and surprises along the way!) a graduate student class on U.S. Labor History visited our Special Collections for an intense 2.5 hour deep-dive into our various labor collections. The archivist led all portions of the class, focusing on primary source analysis and specific labor collections, and according to post-class conversations, the students, instructor, and archivist all deemed the visit a success. However, when the final class paper required students to incorporate archival materials into their research, Special Collections was bombarded by lost and struggling students. Many were unaware of when to consult primary sources in their process, or were worried when reference interviews revealed that their specific topics were difficult matches for our collections.

How had this class of engaged and happy graduate students during their Special Collections visit transformed into stressed researchers in our reading room? Incomplete communications between the faculty instructor and archivist had let expectations for these students get lost in translation, and assumptions were made both about student abilities and about the research assistance and content availability in our library’s Special Collections. The initial lesson plan for the Special Collections visit, while successful in the moment, did not prepare students for their later assignment, which was a surprise to the archivist both in its timing and details. While this breakdown of communication was stressful for the Special Collections department trying to assist these researchers, the real failure was unfortunately missing out on a robust opportunity for research and archival literacy instruction for a group of budding scholars. This less than ideal result, however, did reveal opportunities for better and earlier communication between faculty and Special Collections library staff for improved outcomes. The conclusion of this talk will focus on potential steps, such as assignment or syllabus consultation and embedded librarianship, to improve this collaboration next year and with other faculty members, hopefully leading to the practical results of better instruction, assignments, and research process guidance in the future.


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