Libraries and museums share similar DNA; public institutions holding artifacts of human knowledge and creations. In fact, many MLIS programs cover both library science and museum studies since both are in the business of information just in different formats. So it is no surprise that our museums can be great allies for the work we do with our students. Museums with their troves of primary sources can expand a student’s understanding of history in an engaging, multi-disciplinary way. Librarians can show concepts of scholarship, documentation, archiving, and displaying information through museum experiences. I recently had the opportunity to help organize a museum field experience in collaboration with the social justice studies of our upper school teachers.
The field trip experience was a collaboration between the Florida Holocaust Museum and artist Ya La’ford, who uses installation murals as a creative space to hold storytelling events. In the museum, students saw photographs, artifacts and documents about both the Holocaust in Europe and the Civil Rights movement in America. In addition to The Florida Holocaust Museum permanent collection, they viewed the special exhibits “This Light of Ours: Activist Photographers of the Civil Rights Movement” and “Beaches, Benches and Boycotts: The Civil Rights Movement in Tampa Bay”.
Students headed to the mural site, the tunnel adjacent to Tropicana Field which travels under First Avenue, for “Blue Sunnel”, a storytelling series featuring a panel of speakers focused on gratitude, creativity and perseverance. The panelists were Holocaust survivor Jerry Rawicki, artist and philanthropist Beth Morean, and City Council member Amy Foster – all organized by artist Ya La’ford. The site itself is a transformative 85-foot, blue lighted tunnel, wrapped floor to ceiling in hand painted geometric lines paralleling the rise and fall of the sun on St. Petersburg. Students see what the artifacts and photographs mean when there is a person to give a first-hand experience about it. Image, narrative and conversation converge in a new context for the students.
Back at school students followed up with reading and discussions. This type of educational experience lets student see librarians in another light as a person that can connect them to people and places in their community. They can see that research and documentation can take a creative shape that impacts their community and larger world. I also found that students were seeking out more books and information about both time periods because the multi-layered presentation piqued their curiosity to learn more. One of the English teachers shared that some students want to collect donations and write thank you letters so that these stories are continued to be told. The whole experience reminded me of the poignant resources we all have in our communities and how we can build partnerships to broaden learning resources beyond our shelves. Even if we cannot all attend a field trip it made me think about how the librarian can facilitate learning liaisons like these.
Museums as learning media ideas:
- Find out what museum field trips your school might already do and share resources or offer a mini-lesson as either formative or summative learning experiences connected to the event.
- Volunteer as a chaperone for school field trips.
- Investigate local museums and following their social media for changing exhibits that correlate with your school’s curriculum to share with your staff.
- Consider virtual field trips if you are not able leave your library- share with your art and social studies teachers the Google Cultural Institute which aggregates collections from museums, cultural centers and libraries from around the world. The Smithsonian Museum has educator resources and Smithsonian X 3D captures artifacts in 3D form.
Creative Loafing published a recent article about the event- if you would like to see more details-http://m.cltampa.com/artbreaker/archives/2015/11/20/light-in-the-tunnel.