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Brooklyn Connections

Brooklyn Public Library
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Innovation Leader: Leslie Shope, Project Coordinator, Brooklyn Connections, l.shope@brooklynpubliclibrary.org

Problem Statement

Special Collections remain a mystery to many who might benefit from their collections and staff expertise. Many assume that Special Collections only cater to adult scholars and genealogists. How can Special Collections move away from this stigma and introduce their materials to patrons of all ages, abilities and interests?

Innovation

In 2007, Brooklyn Public Library’s local history division, the Brooklyn Collection, launched an educational initiative called Brooklyn Connections. The program targets underprivileged 7th and 8th grade classes (who are currently studying U.S. History) and introduces both students and their teachers to researching in a special collection. Classes partner with the library for the entire year and work on a unique Brooklyn history project co-designed by the teacher and collection staff. Students participate in collection tours, classroom workshops that highlight archival materials, after school sessions in the special collection, and independent research.

Brooklyn Connections mirrors the services already available to the general public. With the exception of classroom visits and tours, students experience the Brooklyn Collection in the same manner as their adult counterparts – requesting information, speaking with librarians and searching the Collection’s catalog and digital databases. To increase visibility of both the program and the collection, Brooklyn Connections maintains a website, curates an annual exhibit of student work in Central Library and distributes two new guidebooks at the library and on the web: The Young Learners Guide to the Brooklyn Collection and Projects at the Brooklyn Collection: A Teachers Guide.

Progress

In its first two years, Brooklyn Connections welcomed over 1,000 students from 42 classes into the Brooklyn Collection. Now in its third year, Brooklyn Connections is on target to surpass expectations with almost 900 participating students from 37 partner classes for the 2009-2010 school year alone. Over three years, the Brooklyn Connections project coordinator has offered 220 library tours and classroom lessons to partner classes. In Years One and Two over 91% of surveyed students and 100% of surveyed teachers reported a positive experience from the program. Teachers continually express their gratitude and amazement at the support provided by the library: “I had a 100 percent completion rate… almost all of them used resources and/or images from the collection!” Positive responses from students, many of whom deal with language barriers, learning disabilities and emotional problems, are even more promising. After completing their projects, students express a new-found respect for both the library and the study of local history. When asked why he enjoyed studying local history, one student explained, “It’s something I can relate to, something I can see and experience a bit more than history [class].”