THE VICTORIAN INTERNET OR, WHERE LIBRARY INSTRUCTION MEETS THE HISTORY OF TECHNOLOGY
The proposed paper will discuss the rationale for the creation of an innovative educational Museum of the History of Technology at the Charles Evans Inniss Memorial Library (Medgar Evers College, CUNY). The museum is a collaborative project of the Archives and Media departments of the library and the college Department of Computer Information Systems.
The ever so quickly changing information and communication technology as well as contemporary modes of social networking have their impact on the higher education contributing to novel teaching/learning formats. Academic librarians are in the frontiers of these changes. There is, however, another task of connecting the future with the past they traditionally perform. In the context of information technology it is the continuity of the old and new media.
At some point a Library Instruction a.k.a. Information Literacy class arrives at the history of media and communication. A few students would have heard about parchment or clay tablets; some have seen mediaeval manuscripts (or, rather, their electronic images), but there is an even wider recognition gap when it comes to the technology of the 1800s – early 1900s. Adolescents who were already texting before they were teens may not know that different parts of the world were connected via the telegraph network back in the 19th century or will hardly be familiar with the cathode ray tube. Of course, nowadays young people comfortably handle a lot more sophisticated technology than their contemporaries from the late 1800s or early 1900s. The present happy coexistence of humans and gadgets in one healthy ecosystem, however, comes at a price.
Information technology developers produce devices with increasingly comprehensible interface. A typical user does not have to be conscious of the processes going on inside a smoothly running machine; to have a fair command of a tool one only needs to memorize a few simple procedures. Typical IT training programs (for non-IT majors) have also adjusted their courses: they teach students to use (a device, a program, a feature, etc.) rather than to understand what stands behind the performance. At the same time instructors who have an understanding about the inner structure of the object of study are gradually replaced by those who are familiar mostly with how the object normally behaves.
As conceived, the museum will create a context, both historical and technological, into which contemporary machinery is included and demonstrate basic physical and chemical processes that make it run.
Its conception is a summation where one addend is the experience of college instructors, who routinely come across lacunae in their students’ technological background.
The other summand is one IT professor’s plan to create a museum of the history of technology for his college and donate his collection of vintage electric and electronic devices to it. The professor’s personal collection will be complemented by the artifacts from the library Media department storage.
The third part of the sum is the library renovation project, which will provide some display space necessary to start presenting thematic exhibitions and teach classes.
It will serve both as an educational and entertainment environment. Single information technology classes will alternate with thematic exhibitions and regular History of Technology classes for the CIS Department.