This year in my class, Literature of the Great Depression in America, I designed three class days (I called them clinics) around connecting the text-based resources of Van Pelt Library — the stacks and rare books and manuscripts — with the library’s digital resources through WIC’s iPad lending program. While combining rare books with a more cutting edge tool might seem an unusual pairing, students found both cool and the combination solved a problem that I had getting students to understand the process and people involved in creating the types of books and magazines that readers used in the 1930s.
Students love going to the rare book room. Even the books I show them, which are less than 100 years old, seem like relics. For English majors, the fact that the books at Penn are often signed carries even deeper significance. Students tell me that it is exciting to hold a book in their hand that they can imagine the authors we read, John Steinbeck or William Carlos Williams, had touched. (They often have no idea how lucky they themselves are to be allowed to touch these things. Few rare book and manuscript departments are as eager as Penn’s to give undergraduates access.) Visiting the rare book room in a class on the 20th Century gives students some connection to the fairly near past, even as it feels quite distant to them. Continue reading Using iPads in the Rare Book Room