A LibGuide To The Boston Teachers Union: Final Reflections

Hello all! I am Evan McDonagh: a graduate student in the History M.A. program here at the University of Massachusetts Boston and an aspiring archivist. Working with the Boston Teachers Union (BTU) and its collections this spring has been an enjoyable experience, a journey fraught with discoveries and challenges. Unlike our colleagues, I and another student, Kayla Allen, approached the BTU collections from an archives and library focused direction: the creation of a research guide (also known as a LibGuide) for the BTU exhibit and materials. Whereas our fellow students created historical exhibits, Kayla and I worked to improve access to these exhibits as well as other BTU and labor-related resources. How do you improve the research and browsing flow on a website? How do you transform a large quantity of resources and information into a digestible guide? Answering these questions would be the major goal and takeaway of our work.

At heart, the guiding process behind the LibGuide was determining what materials to include. Some of these decisions proved easy, such as connections to the blog posts and exhibits made by our class and the Boston Teachers Union collection held at the Joseph P. Healey Library. However, problems arose as we expanded our scope. Should there be an introductory paragraph and page? Should we link other collections at UMass Boston outside the BTU? What about collections, exhibits, and resources from other institutions and authors? Ultimately, despite the challenges of accommodating evermore content, Kayla and I decided to pursue a more inclusive route centered around teacher unionism and Boston. These “outside” materials – my favorite examples are the Judge Garrity chamber papers and the Beyond Busing collection at Northeastern University – provide useful context for the BTU exhibits and archives.

Despite determining our content, Kayla and I still had to arrange it – an unexpectedly delicate task. As creators, we had to represent our multitude of resources comprehensively while constructing an ergonomic, visually engaging research guide. To that end, we divided the guide into four sections: “Home,” “Exploring the Boston Teachers Union Collection,” “Collections At UMass Boston,” and “External Resources.”

  • The “Home” page functions as a launch pad for researchers. A three paragraph introduction contextualizes the BTU and the digital exhibit enough for researchers to browse independently and there is contact information for the exhibit team and the UMass Boston archives.
  • “Exploring the Boston Teachers Union Collection” serves as a guide-side hub for the digital exhibit. The tab introduces students’ project blogs and the exhibits  through an interactive gallery feature.
  • “Collections at UMass Boston” links the various parts of the BTU collection at UMass Boston as well as related collections: the Garrity papers, the 1919 Boston Police Strike Project, and others.
  • “External Resources” contains a curated bibliography of further reading for researchers and links to resources about the BTU and Boston school desegregation outside UMass Boston.

Heading into the future, I see the LibGuide expanding with in two key ways. First, as the digital exhibits grow, the new opportunities for engagement should be reflected in the guide. Second, as the body of scholarship on school desegregation, teacher unionism, and the BTU becomes more diverse, I hope that the research guide becomes a vehicle for advertising these works. Any educational campaign, from labor movements to public history, depends on awareness. It is my hope that our LibGuide promotes that here.

By Evan McDonagh

Evan McDonagh is a historian, archivist, and current graduate student in the Archives track of the History masters program at the University of Massachusetts Boston. His historical interests lie within the medieval and early modern periods.

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