In this issue of SHARP in the Classroom, I will introduce myself as the new editor and discuss our hopes for the future of this feature. I’ll save the self-intro for the end and lead with what is most important: encouraging teachers and practitioners of book history to submit your pedagogical tools and reflections. We welcome syllabi, assignments, in-class exercises, reflections of what did and did not work well, or anything else that you would like to share.
SHARP in the Classroom was started by Sarah Werner in January 2021 in order to “build a public network for teaching in our field, a place where we can contribute, acknowledge, and record the work that we do in classrooms.” Our goal with this feature is to provide a space to share materials in a way that is low-effort for you but high-impact for the field. Anyone who teaches book history—whether you are an instructor of record, a librarian teaching one-shot classes as part of a much larger array of duties, or a public scholar, bookseller, or collector teaching about what you love in various ways—struggles to juggle the complex thinking that goes into class preparation and the complex doing and making that goes into course delivery. It can be difficult to pause, reflect, and share before moving on to the next exciting thing.
The original call for submissions outlines ways that you can contribute to SHARP in the Classroom. There is also a form for prospective peer reviewers if you would like to help us review submissions. SHARP in the Classroom is scheduled to be published biannually, in August and January, though we would love to expand the feature if there are a significant number of submissions!
Some areas in which we would especially love to see submissions this year include:
- Student voices: We would love to see student work and reflections from students about their class experiences.
- Collaborations and partnerships: We love hearing stories of successful and respectful collaborations between librarians and faculty. We would also love to see submissions from booksellers, whose work often includes teaching about book history in creative ways that can inspire and energize the field.
- Anti-racist pedagogy and social justice: How do your book history courses or sessions engage with the larger world? How do you bring anti-racist pedagogy and goals related to justice and inclusion to the study of material book culture?
- Intersections of identity and book history: What does queer book history, trans book history, or feminist book history look like in the classroom? How do you navigate the complex intersections of the personal, the political, and the pedagogical, especially for those of us with marginalized identities?
- Accessibility: How do you work to make book history accessible for everyone in the classroom? How have you made books and manuscripts available to students with mobility aids, students with low or no sight, or students with low or no hearing? How can we adapt our exercises to engage with a wide array of learning styles and needs?
- Ongoing pandemic strategies: Teaching through disruption has become the norm. Creative ways to engage with students throughout the ongoing pandemic are always of interest.
- Book history outside the special collections library: We would love to hear about teaching collections which can be taken outside of the library; engagement with public libraries or other community spaces; or other ways to bring the practice of book history out of the privileged space of the library.
And now for the introduction of your new editor. I am the Head of Public Services and Associate Curator of Modern Books and Manuscripts at Indiana University’s Lilly Library, where I have been working in various roles since 2012. When I started in a staff position, I wanted to bring my previous teaching experience to special collections and began working on increasing our teaching capacity and making class session more intentional and active, rather than traditional show and tells (though I will always believe there are times and places when traditional show and tell sessions work very well). In 2014 I became the Lilly’s first Education and Outreach Librarian and enjoyed wonderful partnerships with faculty, community members, and other librarians, including working with Head of IU Archives Dina Kellams and then-Head of IU Libraries Teaching and Learning Meg Meiman on the successful Primary Source Immersion Program, which connected faculty with special collections repositories across campus to design semester-long intensive experiences with material culture. I stopped keeping track at some point of how many one-shot library sessions I have taught, but the number passed 700 some years ago.
In 2017, I started teaching for IU’s Information and Library Science Department. I currently teach three courses: Rare Book Librarianship, Rare Book Curatorship, and The Book, 1450 to the Present. I have always found my history of the book class by far the most difficult to plan and teach, and I still don’t have a syllabus that I am in love with, so the kinds of resources that SHARP in the Classroom provides are exactly the kind of inspiration that I make use of every year. My course is uniquely challenging in that I have only one semester to teach future special collections librarians the basic tenets of book history. Like it or not, most undergraduates who are exposed to book history will get that exposure only through a one-shot class session taught or facilitated by a librarian—so the pressure to make sure that future librarians have the vocabulary, tools, and understanding of the history and methodologies of the discipline is intimidating.
I will close with one of my favorite passages from Alberto Manguel’s The Library at Night. Describing the difference between the way his ordered, cataloged books look during the day to the way that they look at night, he writes, “Free from quotidian constraints, unobserved in the late hours, my eyes and hands roam recklessly across the tidy rows, restoring chaos. One book calls to another unexpectedly, creating alliances across different cultures and centuries. A half-remembered line is echoed by another for reasons which, in the light of day, remain unclear. If the library in the morning suggests an echo of the severe and reasonable wishful order of the world, the library at night seems to rejoice in the world’s essential, joyful muddle.” If I had to articulate a teaching philosophy, it would be something like “embrace the essential, joyful muddle; invite chaos to the table.” The book history instructor is in some sense a spirit medium, teaching that all books are haunted by their past makers, readers, and collectors. We teach students how to use their senses and their investigatory skills to discover traces of the past captured in these books and manuscripts in inscriptions, bookplates, marginalia, and evidence of how the book was printed and collated. We celebrate not just the “great men” of literature and history but the sweaty men pulling the printing press, the nimble compositors setting type, the women and children who colored illustrations by hand, the printers who were arrested for printing dangerous and politically radical material, the women who read novels in secret, the people of color and queer communities who fought to bring their words and experiences to the printed page, and all the people whose lives have been shaped and transformed by books.
Rebecca Baumann, SHARP in the Classroom Editor