Why teach with special collections?

Working with archival materials and rare books has a lot of benefits for your students. Assignments or class activities involving primary sources

  • allow students to engage in something new and be active learners;
  • invite students to invest in their learning and take ownership of their ideas;
  • ensure unique approaches and creative output; and
  • provide you the opportunity to engage in collaborative pedagogy.

The information below pertains to our work with specific University courses. We’re also open to offering less instruction-focused tours to campus and community groups. Contact us at to make a request.

Reading Room Visits

We’re always happy to host class visits to the reading room. To set up a visit, email the Special Collections reference and instruction librarian, Alex Boucher (

While we can generally accommodate last minute requests, it’s best to contact us at least a week before you would like to visit.


A class visit to the reading room can take a lot of shapes, but they tend to fall under three basic categories:

  1. Hands-on learning
  2. Resources for an assignment or project
  3. Primary source research

Of course, the visit may be a hybrid of these categories, and we always tailor the outcomes to your particular course. See our documented Special Collections Learning Outcomes for a more detailed discussion.

Remember that you can plan to visit more than once, especially if there is a need for group instruction + time for individual or small group research. Two or three sessions is not uncommon, especially for classes planning to use our materials in assignments.

A followup class visit can be a less formal work day; or you can send individuals or groups to the library on their own for a followup. Someone is always at the reference desk to assist patrons, but students can also schedule a consultation with me or another staff member.


Sessions can be driven by library staff or by the instructor. 

It may be that you are essentially running a class session at Hoole Library, using our materials for your own planned activities. In that case, we’ll be on hand to acquaint everyone with the space and how to handle the materials, as well as answer any questions that come up.

It may be that the librarian leads the session, driving discussion and activities. In that case, it will be planned with your input and we’ll definitely want you there to help the students connect the dots with what you’ve already learned or will learn. 

Generally, the division of power and labor is on the spectrum between these endpoints. The bottom line: We like to plan collaboratively and co-teach, and we are open to whatever format will best help meet your goals.


You can use the following tutorials to acquaint your students with Hoole Library before the class makes a visit.

Both tutorials allow them to send an email confirmation to themselves or you, so you can use the exercise for a daily grade or extra credit.

Classroom Visits

While we generally don’t take any of our materials out of the building for instruction purposes, there are plenty of reasons to bring a librarian to your classroom anyway, even for just for a portion of the class session. We can do things like

  • introduce ourselves and special collections;
  • consult with students on their research projects;
  • Discuss primary source research in general, including logistical things like how to search for materials or theoretical things like why certain kinds of materials are more likely to be in the repository than others; or
  • guide students through analysis and evaluation exercises involving digitized materials.

Remote & Hybrid Instruction

We are happy to offer synchronous remote instruction for archival research skill or encounters with collections, featuring digitized materials or video of originals. If desired, you can have the students follow up with individual consultations with our staff and subsequent research appointments to see the materials in person.

Looking for digital archives to use in your classroom?

Check out the links below!

  • Digital Collections — A LibGuide that explains how to use the Digital Collections interface and highlights (and links to!) collections by topic.
  • Research Guides — A list of links you to topical guides, which have links to digital materials where they exist. Topics include African American history, Latin America and the Caribbean, rare maps, Alabama women, Native American resources, and military-related collections.
  • Digital Exhibits — The new home of our digital exhibits. Recent offerings are on women’s suffrage in the South, Reconstruction in Alabama, and campus student unrest after the Kent State shootings in 1970. The sidebar leads to these awesome previous exhibits: Empowering Voices, on LGBTQ history in Alabama; and Persuasive Weapons, about WWI propaganda posters.

If you have a special content need, let us know! We can probably curate something for you.

Instruction Support

Special Collections can help you accomplish your teaching goals in other ways. For instance, we can

  • consult on assignments involving primary sources, to ensure that they are doable with our collections and appropriate for novice researchers;
  • embed in your course via regular class visits or a presence in Blackboard Learn, to be a more present point of contact for students; or
  • collaborate on class research projects like public exhibits or websites, to give them a unique learning opportunity. 

To start a conversation about how we can assist you, contact the Special Collections reference and instruction librarian, Alex Boucher (