Undergrads in the Special Collections Library

I have long lamented the fact that as an undergraduate, I stepped foot into the special collections area of the university's library only once and that was to interview the director about a budget issue for the student paper. When I later worked in a university library's special collections/archives, I reached out to history professors to promote the use of primary sources among undergrads -- give them a chance to decipher that nineteenth-century handwriting and sift through photos of early campus beauty pageants. It not only enriches the learning process but some of those students are going to walk away with a newfound desire to collect or preserve or perhaps help their alma mater do so at a later date.

Richard J. Ring, head curator and librarian of the Watkinson Library at Trinity College, has taken this idea to a whole new level. Last year, he implemented creative fellowships in special collections for undergraduates. Five students receive a $1,500 stipend for one semester, in which they produce a creative project based on or inspired by materials held in the Watkinson Library. The project can be art, writing, performance, film -- virtually any medium.  

As Ring says in the promotional video they produced to promote the fellowship, "My hope is to set a trend nationally of special collections encouraging their undergraduates to use the collections in creative ways rather than academic ways."

One of last year's fellows composed a piece of original music based on a French manuscript from 1833 that contains songs and hand-drawn illustrations. Another fellow printed a chapbook of poetry, having carved the font out of linoleum blocks.

Take a look at the video -- you'll be inspired by higher education (for once)!