To read this content please select one of the options below:

“We turn the lens … on ourselves:” assessing digital primary source library instruction through the lens of scholarship of teaching and learning

Peggy Keeran (University Libraries, University of Denver, Denver, Colorado, USA)

Reference Services Review

ISSN: 0090-7324

Article publication date: 24 November 2022

Issue publication date: 7 March 2023




The tenets of Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SoTL) allow librarians to assess their teaching effectiveness through an evaluation of student learning. For the author, the sudden reliance on digital primary source collections during the 2020 pandemic lockdown provided a catalyst to examine her digital primary source instruction as a research project. In this case study, the author aims to examine library instruction for a required course for third-year history majors.


The author collaborated with a history professor to identify “bottlenecks” related to digital primary source research, and to design two new library instruction sessions with in-class activities and assignments to address these bottlenecks. The professor and author then evaluated the assignments to determine if students had understood and incorporated the methods modeled during the research instruction classes.


Teaching undergraduate history majors digital primary source research skills that will lead to the habits of mind of historians cannot be done in one academic quarter, for it takes time to develop disciplinary ways of thinking. Providing select core concepts more systematically earlier in the history major curriculum could make the enculturation into the discipline less fraught and confusing later, so that students begin learning foundational skills in their third year to carry them forward into their senior year when they write their theses.


Little has been written on digital primary source library instruction, which intersects with a variety of other research literacies. Assessing library instruction through the lens of SoTL is relatively new for academic librarians and has not been used in evaluating student learning in the digital primary source environment.



The author would like to thank her colleague Bridget Farrell for her invaluable insight and feedback on SoTL and the author’s project, and to thank the fabulous University of Denver faculty who collaborated with the author on the library instruction workshops and assignments that informed the research project: Hilary Smith, Carol Helstosky, Elizabeth Escobedo, Angela Parker, Robert Gilmor and Sarah Pessin.


Keeran, P. (2023), "“We turn the lens … on ourselves:” assessing digital primary source library instruction through the lens of scholarship of teaching and learning", Reference Services Review, Vol. 51 No. 1, pp. 33-51.



Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2022, Emerald Publishing Limited

Related articles