Great things happen through collaboration at the USF Tampa Library. This spring semester, Special and Digital Collections department, the Office for Undergraduate Research, and USF Associate Professor of English Cynthia Patterson worked together to provide a rich research experience to Dr. Patterson’s undergraduate class.
Patterson initially became aware of the USF Libraries extensive collection of dime novels while completing her cultural studies Ph.D. at George Mason University, where a colleague’s dissertation focused on dime novels for women. Dr. Patterson anticipated using the collection one day in a class, but the traditional USF English department curriculum offered few opportunities to integrate historic collections such as the dime novels. She finally found an ideal opportunity to work with the collection while designing her Spring 2013 LIT 3301 Cultural Studies course.
Employing a sophisticated understanding of pedagogical theory gleaned from her Master’s degree in Education, Dr. Patterson created a meaningful experience for the class. They were introduced to the material through critical and contextual secondary sources — primarily articles from the library’s electronic database subscriptions. The students then dug in to the historic primary source materials in the Dime Novels collection. Dr. Patterson designed the course not only to give the mix of juniors and seniors in the class a worthwhile research experience, but also to equip them with technological skills that would be of value in the workplace.
In order for the project to proceed unfettered by technological limitations, she applied for and received an Office of Undergraduate Research CREATTE grant (Creating Research Experiences and Activities Through Teaching Enhancement). The grant allowed Dr. Patterson to purchase handheld scanners for the class to digitize as-yet unscanned materials pertinent to their particular project, to establish an instructor-level Omeka account, and to enlist USF Libraries Special and Digital Collections graduate assistant Kimberly Nordon to facilitate the technological aspect of the assignment. Digitizing elements of the dime novels for their projects also meant that materials not yet available to library patrons in a digital format could now be displayed online, in effect doubling the utility of the process. Special Collections Librarian Melanie Griffin was ‘embedded’ with the class in order to teach them how to conduct research in Special Collections, and how to handle and digitize the fragile materials they would be working with.
A number of students in the class said that the process of researching their topic and creating the online exhibition was such a valuable lesson in hands-on research that they wished they’d had the experience earlier in their studies. There is a generalization that the current generation is overwhelmingly tech savvy but it turns out that only select students in the class possessed such skills. So it was a fitting complement to the research assignment that an aim of the class was teaching workplace skills such as online file sharing and collaboration on online projects such as their project websites. Graduate assistant Kimberly Nordon taught the students to use hand-scanners to digitize the materials as well as to organize the ultimate form the exhibitions would take — a website using the Omeka platform that the USF Libraries uses to publish its curated exhibitions.
Two of the student groups in the class were accepted to present at the USF Office for Undergraduate Research Colloquium. Jennifer Delio, Vincent Euliano, and Clayton Prather participated in a poster session, presenting their work exploring science fiction and technology in dime novels; Adnan Campara, Beryl Johnson, and Stephen Strenges presented their work on the Nick Carter dime novel detective series. The two other groups in the class focused on sports and adventure themes in dime novels, respectively. Collaborations such as these showcase the powerful potential for academic growth when library resources and programs receive direct funding. Contact Merrell Dickey at (813) 974-1654 or firstname.lastname@example.org to support projects that directly benefit student learning and real world skills.