Published: March 27, 2019

The Special Collections, Archives & Preservation (SCAP) Department at the University Libraries is passionate about sharing its collections. SCAP actively looks for opportunities to collaborate with students, faculty, campus museums, and the community.

“Cross-pollination between SCAP and the CU Art Museum, the CU Museum of Natural History,  and other entities is very healthy," Instruction and Exhibits Manager Susan Guinn-Chipman said. "We learn from each other and from each other's materials. We find that by placing our materials together, such as in the current Documenting Change exhibits at the CUAM, the materials speak to each other in really interesting ways."

Over the past ten years, this department has seen a significant uptick in interest from faculty across campus in collaborating with SCAP for classroom instruction sessions, workshops, and tours, using their physical primary sources.  

"We’re now averaging well over 250 classes a year, more than double the numbers of less than a decade ago," she said.

SCAP has materials from its special collections for students to examine.

SCAP has materials from its special collections for students to examine.

Preparation for each class can take 10 hours or more, Guinn-Chipman noted, with new classes and collaborations planned months in advance. This process includes meeting with the class instructor, selecting and setting up the materials, the class itself, then returning the materials back to their shelves.

Guinn-Chipman explained that the heavy course load is worth it because she sees the value that primary source instruction and object-based learning bring to classes from a wide range of disciplines across campus.

"Being able to learn from a rare work as an artifact, in addition to understanding its content, holds an educational value all its own," she said.

Sean Babbs, instruction and reference specialist with the Libraries, noted that the department has seen students react positively to learning with physical objects.

“Our instruction sessions give students the ability to work hands-on with primary source materials at their own pace and allow them to come to their own conclusions,” said Babbs. “I see it as a ‘laboratory’ for history and culture.”

Guinn-Chipman works on bookbinding with students.

Guinn-Chipman works on bookbinding with students.

SCAP's collections are well-suited to a variety of learning styles. The haptic learning of bookbinding and letterpress printing workshops, for example, can be especially effective for learning about technological developments of the past in new ways.

The department is home to millions of documents, with around 150,000 items from medieval manuscripts to modern photography books, housed in Special Collections.  Over half of these materials may be found in the library catalog. SCAP's rare books are carefully housed in a dark, climate-controlled environment.

Balancing access to rare works with their preservation is a constant challenge. It's critical for students to engage with these rare materials. At the same time, SCAP wants to ensure these materials will survive in good condition for future generations.

Highlights from this academic year include SCAP’s collaboration with Writing and Rhetoric Instructor Danny Long’s Radical Science Writing course; their semester-long letterpress project culminated with the student-curated exhibit: The Poetic Table of the Elements on display through the end of the semester.  Working with Special Collections and the Book Arts League, Associate Professor Suzanne Magnanini’s Literary and Artistic Cultures in Italy 1: 1200-1800 has letterpress-printed their translations of passages of Italian works held in Special Collections; their project will culminate in the upcoming student-curated exhibit and open house: How To Do It in Renaissance Italy.  Associate Professor Catherine Labio’s Critical Thinking in English Studies – Special Topic: Text/Image has focused on letterpress printing and book arts construction for their upcoming open house that will feature student projects.  

Guinn-Chipman said she sees the value that primary source instruction and object-based learning bring to classes throughout campus.

Guinn-Chipman said she sees the value that primary source instruction and object-based learning bring to classes throughout campus.

All of these classes began their semester-long collaboration with exploration of SCAP’s rare, primary sources:  Radical Science Writing with everything from a 1st edition Galileo to mid-20th century works on nuclear fallout; Literary and Artistic Cultures in Italy with medieval Italian manuscripts to Castiglione’s 16th century work on the proper behaviour of courtiers; and Text/Image with early, 15th century print to 21st century Book Arts.  

Upcoming classes for this Spring Semester include Sewall Academic Program Instructor and Associate Director Nicole Jobin’s The Rise and Fall of Ancient Rome, Professor Shelley Copley’s Microbial Genetics and Physiology, and Assistant Professor Brandon Pelcher’s Fairy Tales of Germany, among many others.

For more information, visit the Special Collections, Archives and Preservation webpage.