Introducing High School Students to a College Library

Every summer a group of high school students, gleaned from high schools all over the United States, comes to campus for a week-long program called CLAE (the Carleton Liberal Arts Experience). There are various courses they can take (everything from “how to apply to college” to “the Harlem Renaissance”) with the dual purpose of introducing them to the idea of a liberal arts college and giving them a little bit of experience living and studying on a college campus. The emphasis is really on empowering them to think that college is possible, doable, interesting, intense, and fun.

And every year, one of the classes brings all the kids to the library. For the past three summers I’ve worked with the history librarian to prepare the students to engage in a modernized Washington/Du Bois debate. But this year the class and professor changed, so the history librarian and I started from scratch to build a class for students studying the Harlem Renaissance.

My part of the class preparations was to develop an exercise that would introduce the students to the 5 reference sets they’d need to navigate as they prepared for their final presentations. But the big question was how to make it easy for them to pick their sets out from the shelves and shelves of unfamiliar reference books, while still letting them see the sets in context rather than pulled out and put on a cart just for this assignment. Well, to ease this particular rub, I made signs for each set that had a full scan of the cover of the one of the set’s volumes, and then a cut-out image of the set’s place on the shelf.

Then I put these signs up on the shelves above each reference set.

That way, when the students came back to do their research after all of the librarians had gone home for the night, they’d be able to go back to the sets we’d shown them in class. I hope it worked for them.

Oh, and the exercise itself sounded great on paper, but would need more clarification next year. I still like the idea of it, but there were some recurring questions I should have anticipated.