Exchanging Research with Libraries and Museums

Libraries and museums are, unsurprisingly, some of Kettering’s best partners in learning. Over the past two years, program officer Joni Doherty has led a number of related research exchanges bringing together museums, historical associations, and libraries to explore how they can enrich their work by building in fuller, more sophisticated ideas about citizenship and democratic practice. In 2017, several experiments within these exchanges culminated in exciting new initiatives. 


Libraries and the Public


Houston Public Library, like so many others, was stunned by the destruction of Hurricane Harvey. Nicole Robinson, assistant director of community education, outreach, and cultural initiatives division at the library, has been a participant in the Libraries and the Public learning exchanges over the past 18 months. She reports that the library “remain[s] encouraged by the compassion, humanity and strong sense of community that has been exhibited, which is needed more than ever before.”


Nicole explains, “With the full scope of recovery just beginning to come into focus, it has meant a reorganization of priorities and agendas as we assess our people and infrastructure resources. Of our 450-employee base, more than 125 suffered some level of impact as a result of the storm.”


As part of a research project that explores how institutions such as libraries might work with communities to address local problems, the Houston Public Library developed a relationship with a community partner, Higher Impact Ministries/Lifting Through Literacy. They were focusing their efforts on identifying what it would take for children to thrive educationally in Independence Heights. Many of the residents of this neighborhood were hit hard by the storm so, according to Nicole, “the priorities and focus within the community have shifted to one of survival, helping residents meet their basic needs of shelter and food. The coalition of churches that make up the ministries and local schools have organized to serve as disaster relief points of access, with each taking on certain roles (i.e. distribution of food, clothing, etc.).” The library’s Mobile Express is now providing technology access and assistance for Independence Heights residents.


While the working relationship with the community continues, the focus of that work has shifted from creating the conditions needed for children thrive in school to working with community partners to create disaster relief points of access.


Meanwhile, another library involved in this research exchange, the Public Library of Cincinnati & Hamilton County, also initiated a new experiment in civic engagement. Initially, the library planned an experiment that was designed to tackle the broad, toxic problem of homelessness, but over the course of the research exchange, decided to refocus their project to consider how all citizens might use and enjoy Piatt Park—the oldest public park in the city. You can read more about this experiment in popular library manager David Siders’ own words in the new 2017 issue of Connections.


 A Day of Deliberation


The Autry Museum of the American West in Los Angeles recently developed an issue guide and curriculum for deliberation about an historic decision. Hetch Hetchy: How Do We Make the Best Use of Our Natural Resources? asks middle and high school students to make decisions about best use of our natural resources in the Hetch Hetchy Valley in Yosemite. At the time of this historic decision, in 1913, the US Congress was preparing to vote on whether a dam should be build there. Students are asked to consider how we reconcile the competing claims of diverse populations and whose needs should take precedence.


On October 30, a Day of Deliberation was held at the Autry Museum, which included a 90-minute moderated deliberative forum and a guided tour of the gallery Human/Nature. The curricular unit prepared by museum educators also includes pre- and post-classroom activities. Students learn about the legislative process, water rights in California, the National Park Service, and the conservation movement in the United States. In addition to the content, this program builds deliberative skills, fosters good listening, and promotes civil discourse.


The Autry was a participant in Historic Decisions: Citizens Deliberating to Shape Their Future, a two-year learning exchange that explored integrating civic and history education through creating guides for deliberating about past decisions and using forums and other deliberative practices in educational and interpretive programs. They are now beginning a one-year experiment with incorporating the guide they created into museum programing and curricular units for middle and high school students.


Building Networks


In May, 150 high school students and 14 teachers and museum volunteers participated in the “Battle of the Balkans: Connecting Clinton to World War I,” organized by education specialist Kathleen Pate at the Clinton Presidential Library in Little Rock, Arkansas. The students participated in deliberative forums using issue guides developed by the Clinton Presidential Library and the National World War I Museum and Memorial in Kansas City, Missouri. Two staff members from the World War I Museum, Lora Vogt, curator of education, and Cherie Kelly, school programs manager, also assisted with the program.


Small group forums used issue guides created by the museum and the library. Half deliberated about what the United States should do about the 1999 Kosovo crisis, which occurred during Clinton’s presidency. This guide is part of Advise the Presidents, a research project that included the Clinton Museum, the National Archives, the Kettering Foundation, and the National Issues Forums Institute. The other half used a guide that presented options about possible US roles in World War I developed by the World War I Museum and Memorial during their participation in Historic Decisions learning exchanges. All of the students were asked to decide whether and when the United States should get involved in international conflicts. You can read more about what the Clinton Library learned about civic education and engagement in the 2017 Connections article by Kathleen Pate.


In July, the partnership between the Library and the Museum continued, when the National World War I Museum and Memorial hosted “World War I and Its Aftermath,” a Gilder Lehrman Institute summer seminar for teachers from around the United States. Participants examined the origins, scope, and consequences of World War I. Jay Winter, the Charles J. Stille Professor of History at Yale, led the 6-day seminar; most of the 30 educators who participated were middle and high school social studies teachers. The museum’s collections and education staff, along with Kathleen Pate from the Clinton Presidential Library, contributed daily sessions to the seminar, which included introducing the participants to deliberative forums. 


Historic Decisions and Problem-Based Learning


In September, the World War I Museum and Memorial convened an Historic Decisions Deliberative Democracy workshop for 44 social studies teachers who were interested in learning how these practices can support the problem-based learning instruction adopted by their school district. Using The World at War: What Role Should the United States Play in International Conflicts?—an Historic Decisions guide developed by the museum—the teachers were introduced to deliberative forums, moderating (with an emphasis on asking questions that foster deliberation), and the benefits of using forums in the classroom. Participant were also given a tour of highlighted artifacts that are related to the issue guide. The teachers will be incorporating what they’ve learned into their teaching during the school year and are interested in learning more about NIF and in using both the World War I and other historic decisions and contemporary issue guides.