Unlocking Special Collections for Teaching and Learning

collection-based seminar

Dr Janette Martin writes:

On Thursday 26 April 2018, curators and librarians from the University of Manchester Library hosted a special evening for teaching staff at the University of Manchester. It provided an opportunity not only to showcase some of our lesser-known collections but also to present case studies of how Special Collections had been used in a classroom setting by current academics.

Janette Martin (Archivist-Curator and Reader Engagement Manager) introduced the evening by outlining how the Special Collections team can support academics. We can enhance teaching and learning and contribute to student experience and employability in 3 key areas:

  • Collection-based seminars in which curators work with an academic to identify material that tallies with a taught undergraduate or postgraduate module to enhance and deepen the student learning experience. These generally take place in the John Rylands Library itself and include an introduction to Reader Services.  In future we hope to offer the digital equivalent of embedding Special Collections in your modules – watch this space!
  • Digitisation: the Heritage Imaging team at the University of Manchester can support teaching and learning by digitising material with ongoing teaching potential. For more information on services we offer to academics, see
  • Curatorials: these are one-to-one meetings between academic staff or students and Special Collection curators in which research interests are matched with our collections. For both staff and students, the expert knowledge of library staff within and across collections can generate exciting new ideas for research projects, long essays and dissertations.

Our first speaker, Rachel Winchcombe (Lecturer in Early Modern History) described how the collections at the John Rylands Library had encouraged more students to study Early Modern History (despite many of them insisting that they were modernists when they arrived as first years!).  She particularly valued how encountering collections improved students’ ability to critically assess primary material.

Rachel Winchcombe
Rachel Winchcombe (Lecturer in Early Modern History)

Anne Anderton (Heritage Imaging Co-ordinator) then gave an overview of the work of our Heritage Imaging team before handing over to Luke Uglow (Lecturer in Art History) who enthusiastically described how he had taken a group of Art History students into the Special Collection stores to see some of our paintings and other visual material in situ.  Luke explained how the photography experts in the Heritage Imaging team and their knowledge of multi-spectral imaging techniques had deepened his understanding of oil paintings. He also explained how oil paintings can be used as a primary source in both teaching and research.

Liuke Uglow
Luke Uglow (Lecturer in Art History)

Next we heard from our Map Librarian, Donna Sherman, who described the work she does with students from Earth Sciences and Geography and the relevance of our extensive map collection to a raft of disciplines – for everything that occurs, or did occur, happens in a place!  Our final speaker was Bernard McGrath (Education and Learning Manager at The John Rylands Library), who spoke about his work on developing collection-based teaching for school groups.

Bernie McGrath
Bernard McGrath (Education and Learning Manager)

After the more formal part of the evening was finished there was an opportunity for participants to discuss ideas and meet library staff over wine and canapes.  These conversations have already generated some interesting ideas to take forward. Our first teaching and learning event had a real buzz about it and we would like to make it an annual event.  Do let us know if you would like to come to a future tutor evening or, if you are willing to share a case study of how you have embedded Special Collections in your modules.

If you would like to know more about how Special Collections can help with your teaching and learning or to book a curatorial please contact me for further information.

Dr Janette Martin,





1 comment on “Unlocking Special Collections for Teaching and Learning

  1. Pingback: Unlocking Special Collections for Teaching and Learning, feat. Dr Uglow – Art History UoM Index

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