My Age of Enlightenment: Creating a Research Guide

Knowledge or learning that remains hidden from view is dull and lifeless. Ideas that are regularly tested, examined, and exposed to scrutiny morph into new ideas. Starting in England in the 17th century, the outpouring of creativity that emerged during the Age of the Enlightenment is an example of how a series of ideas and activities, when assembled or re-arranged in a new way, can radically change the world.

One of the many platforms that HPU librarians use to make print and electronic materials discoverable is our Research Guides. Like many other libraries, we use a program developed and maintained by Springshare that provides us with templates to produce guides for course and subject content that are branded and consistent in their look and functionality. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the format, the Research Guides can be found on the right-hand menu on the library website. Each major department has their own subject tab, with further listings by course number. HPU librarians create individual guides to help direct students towards materials that are appropriate for their discipline, instructor, and individual course.

issac newtonResearching the Age of Enlightenment
Recently I was asked to create a research guide on The Age of the Enlightenment for Dr. Laura Linker, for her ENG 4520 class. Because Dr. Linker’s course covers the span of years from 1660 to 1789, a very exciting and dynamic period in English and European history, I had to read and refresh my knowledge of the history of the era.

During this period, many old and accepted ideas and practices were changed, revised and “enlightened”: Sir Isaac Newton revolutionized the study of physics and proscribed the laws of gravity; Richard Sheridan wrote and produced new plays; Samuel Pepys described his world in his famous diaries; and Captain James Cook circumnavigated the globe, using a clock made by John Harrison that enabled Cook to measure longitude accurately for the first time. During the Age of the Enlightenment, William Wilberforce worked tirelessly on the task of abolishing slavery, fortified by sermons from preachers like John Wesley, and with tea drunk out of cups made by his friend, Josiah Wedgwood. The American Founding Fathers absorbed these influences (and many more) to write the U.S. Constitution and establish a country.

Although it is a labor-intensive exercise to create and maintain these wholly electronic research guides, the process trails some significant benefits for the library and our constituents. Most significant is that instructors and librarians work in concert to evaluate, locate, and present materials that will be significant to students taking a particular course. One of the sidebar benefits to this process is that it encourages both instructors and librarians to inventory current library holdings, frequently resulting in the purchase of new materials for our collections.

CaptureThe Benefits of Research Guides
The second benefit to using research guides as heavily as we do is that it allows those librarians, who have not been involved directly with the creation of an individual guide, to quickly and efficiently provide sources and materials for an individual course with which they may not be not wholly familiar. Significantly, this helps us to provide a coherent message regarding appropriate materials to our users that is themed and structured according to the specific requirements of an instructor.

The third benefit to investing time and treasure into the creation of research guides is less tangible, and was quickly demonstrated to me when working with Dr. Linker. One of the pages in the ENG 4520 guide is a listing of websites where one can access digital images of artifacts produced during the Age of Enlightenment (one of the assignments for the class). Having published the guide, she asked if I could add a link to a newly released tranche of images from the Wellcome Library, recently made available for use via a very generous Creative Commons license. Upon close inspection, I realized that the site contained images that were directly germane to three students I have been working with on three very different projects.

Sharing information is part of the DNA of most librarians, a double helix composed of equal parts information and a desire to share that knowledge, which both supports and nourishes the work we do in libraries. Research guides at HPU, for me, are part of that process. The collegiate nature of the production of this research guide meant that in doing, I learned, and in learning, I shared.

Andrew Fair

—Andrew Fair
Evening Reference Librarian