by Elizabeth Chase, Coordinator for Research Services, MARBL
For many of the students who come to MARBL for the first time, their visit to the archives is pure happenstance. They happen to sign up for a course because of its time slot, the general education requirement it fulfills, or its topic. They may not know that the course involves MARBL materials, or even that MARBL exists. While many of the students who conduct research in MARBL are humanities majors, many intend to pursue law, medicine, business, or the sciences. They come to the 10th floor often having never seen a rare book or manuscript, and if we’re lucky, and do our jobs well, they leave as converts.
MARBL currently conducts over 60 sessions per semester; students visit from a range of departments: from English and History to Jewish Studies, Art History, Journalism, African American Studies, Music, and Medicine. We offer a variety of sessions: some instructors bring their students for a “show-and-tell” of MARBL highlights related to their course topic. In these sessions, MARBL staff and graduate student assistants explain our collections, elaborating on what comprises manuscripts, archives, and rare books. At other times, we offer sessions for honors thesis students or graduate students that focus on in-depth research methods. Finally, we allow instructors to offer their own classes in MARBL; faculty such as Kevin Young and Sarah McPhee have offered semester-long courses focused on MARBL’s Raymond Danowksi Poetry Library and our rare book holdings on early Rome, respectively.
Throughout each type of session, we emphasize our mission: to balance preservation of MARBL’s rare and unique materials with broad access for researchers. Over the past ten years, as awareness of the opportunities MARBL presents has spread, the instruction program has grown dramatically. During the 2002-2003 academic year, MARBL hosted 26 sessions for 326 students and visitors. This year, during just the first half of the 2011-2012 academic year, MARBL conducted 95 sessions for 1357 students. Some students came as part of brief tours; 600 students participating in Atlanta’s Latino Youth Leadership Conference came to MARBL in groups of 20 to view facsimile editions of Latin American works with subject librarian Phil MacLeod. For others, their interaction with our materials spans the length of a paper: Students from Donna Harper’s class at Spelman College come to MARBL each year to conduct research for a paper on Alice Walker’s The Third Life of Grange Copeland. Still others come to MARBL for a semester-long research experience: students in James Roarke’s course “Experiencing the Civil War,” explore the life of one particular participant in the Civil War—perhaps a soldier, doctor, priest, or wife— beginning with the MARBL documents that capture bits of his or her life.
Students who undertake research in MARBL are asked to engage in a different and often completely new form of research. The unique materials housed in MARBL’s collections contain documents that only a handful of people may have taken the time to peruse fully; here, students can find evidence that no one else has discussed. Ultimately, what we want students to know is this: These items are here, and they are here to be used. As much as for the venerate scholar, these items are here for you.
The full version of this text originally appeared in the Spring 2012 edition of the Manuscript, Archives and Rare Book Library Magazine.