Janet Morton, Learning Advisor in the Skills@Library team, shares her reflections on a recent conference workshop she delivered that highlighted our successful collaboration with Special Collections colleagues.


Underpants, or at least the image of, was what helped engage delegates at our mock workshop recently delivered to the Northern Collaboration Conference at Lancaster University. I don’t know if this said more about us or our audience! Tim Proctor represented Special Collections, whilst I stood in for Learning Services, when we demonstrated that at Leeds we have exciting joint practices to give students the best discovery experience when researching their projects.

Our session: “Archival research recognises no barriers – enabling student engagement with archives” met the conference guidelines on outlining innovation and inclusive practices. The main activity included making a decision whether underpants (from the Brotherton Library collection), and other unlikely text and non-text source materials, were legitimate resources to be found in archives. Sometimes it is obvious, but arguably not always so.

Activities replicating some of the fascination of handling archival material, raised other issues, namely the important, and often elusive academic skill of criticality. This higher thinking skill is often demanded of students by academics, so we attempted to elicit this consideration in a fun presentation.

I’m pleased to say that the combination of critical thinking in a special collections context is now incorporated into our Skills@Library workshop programme. It aims to challenge the misconception that archive materials are irrelevant for many students. Offering this workshop at Leeds has the benefit that it can potentially reach students in ALL faculties, not just those from schools more traditionally associated with using primary source archives. This enthusiasm for critical thinking and archives makes Learning Services and Special Collections more inclusive in an innovative way – and it also cleverly fulfilled the conference brief!

If you are curious to see more I invite you to look at our presentation and other slides from the conference: https://drive.google.com/drive/folders/1qZ3qc14CE9YAUhQqlIdMse1NJgV4IFfR

Look out for our workshops on how you can use archival and primary source material for your research projects in semester 2.