15 Apr 2017 12:00 AM | Susan Viguers (Administrator)

As a teacher of the book arts, I have repeatedly observed students responding excitedly to making paper, printing letterpress, and binding books by hand. Contemporary college students seem to consistently respond enthusiastically to the haptic experiences they have in library-based learning laboratories as part of class visits, semester-long courses, and student employment. I did wonder, however, about why the students got excited, so I conducted a pilot study to investigate why students liked engaging with the book hands-on in the context of a liberal arts college.

The primary research questions I developed is:

• How do undergraduate college students characterize their experience with hands-on book-related inquiry?

In addition to my primary research question, I wanted to explore these additional questions:

• In the twenty-first century, what about the book engages these students?

• Why does book history, presented to them in highly interactive, in-person formats, engage and excite students?

• How do students relate their experiences in these book-oriented environments to other aspects of their educational experience?

•How can knowing more about these phenomena inform the institutional context in which collections, facilities, and expertise combine in order to steward cultural heritage resources for future generations?

I based my pilot study at Wellesley College, which has an active interdisciplinary Book Studies program that incorporates the book arts (including hand papermaking, letterpress printing, and bookbinding), conservation, special collections and archives. With my research questions in mind, I did participant observation in the Book Arts Lab, the Conservation Facility, and Archives and Special Collections. I used the themes I discovered through observation to generate interview questions. I conducted and transcribed interviews with current and former students and select library colleagues. I then developed a series of codes that helped me to identify themes in the transcriptions. I coded my transcriptions and analyzed the results.

Preliminary findings indicated that students were engaged with the book as an object, the opportunity to do hands-on work, the social aspects of their learning experiences, the library-based context of the work, and the career opportunities associated with the book. In addition, students were intrigued by the various ways in which space and time were reflected in books themselves.

I hope to be able to repeat this study on a larger scale and I welcome feedback from others. Why do you think the students you teach get excited about hands-on book-related activity?

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