My work in the Public Projects Division was rooted in Creating Local Linkages, a project designed to introduce public historians to historical research methods and digital history skills. The project team will work to develop in-person workshops, online courses, and open educational resources that can be modified for locally effective use: a range of professional development opportunities to support public librarians’ work to develop and facilitate local digital history programs in their communities. As a member of the project team, my work focused on developing content for an online module, participating in site visits to local public libraries, and collaborating with the current project manager in preparation for my taking on this role in the fall.
In our first team meeting of the semester, I volunteered to develop the content for the Analyzing Primary Sources module. I believed this would be an easy enough task, given my past experience in the classroom teaching students how to use primary sources; yet my experience only took me so far. Over the course of the semester I needed to consider (and reconsider) both content and audience. For example, in the classroom, I might teach middle- or high-school students how to analyze a letter, journal entry, or political cartoon as primary sources. The holdings of a local public library, however, are much broader and I needed to include additional sources such as historical films, numerical data (such as tax assessments), and oral histories in the module—this forced me to slow down and research the nature of these unique sources and determine how best to articulate the steps of analysis. This determination was based as much on the steps of analysis as it was on the audience they would be articulated to—both public libraries and patrons who may use the modules and associated open educational resources.
Our team also needed to understand the needs of our audience, so we researched public libraries in Maryland and Virginia with local history holdings and conducted site visits with library staff. While we had a set of questions we were looking to answer, library staff did as well, making our site visits moments of shared inquiry where we could begin to determine new questions and issues, with the goal of also identifying mutually satisfying answers and solutions. I also spent time throughout the semester talking through project logistics with the current project manager; since I have been interested in project management in a public history context, I was excited to have the opportunity to shadow her for the semester, and examine what processes and tools are in place to manage our work. We’re also collaborating on the work plan for the design of the online course.
Creating content, researching for site visits, and learning project management have all been important and useful experiences for me this semester. However, as a trained public historian, I would remiss if I didn’t discuss, even briefly, the way in which collaboration influenced my work. As I developed the primary source modules, receiving questions and feedback from the team helped me to sharpen my writing and approach. Researching, planning, and participating in site visits assisted in finetuning our team’s operating assumptions and determining the path forward. Learning project management in a collaborative space allowed me to consider our everyday project work in a more strategic way as I move into a new role. While I am definitely looking forward to the summer, I am also looking forward to the new challenges and opportunities that await me in the fall semester.