Leah Benedict, clinical assistant professor of English, received 2018 WSU Libraries’ Excellence Award for her dedication to introducing students to the many facets of library research.
Through assignments based on everything from reels of mircrofilm to special archive materials to modern sales brochures, Benedict regularly challenges her students to look more deeply at the constructed nature of knowledge and information.
Library faculty who recommended Benedict for the honor cited her consistent and innovative use of the WSU Libraries beyond just finding and evaluating resources.
“For example, Leah brings her English 298 students into the library each semester to learn about microforms and their impact on information production and culture,” said Erin Hvizdak, reference and instruction librarian and one of Benedict nominatoars. “She asks her students to consider their feelings when using the machines, provide observations about the physicality of the format and even describe the smell of the film and the room.
“This holistic approach to information-seeking that draws on all of the senses asks students to think critically and creatively, contributing to a much richer understanding of library research, which will serve them greatly as they move through their time at the university and beyond,” she said.
‘Engaging her students’ natural curiosity’
Manuscripts Librarian Cheryl Gunselman said Benedict understands the transformational potential in bringing students together with challenging sources. She includes assignments based on historic primary sources in Manuscripts, Archives and Special Collections into her Honors 290 and English 298 courses.
“These students work with a wide array of special collections items, from 18th-century travel narratives to 20th-century promotional brochures for consumer technologies such as appliances,” Gunselman said. “She recognizes the power of engaging her students’ natural curiosity to elevate their academic work, even at an early stage in their undergraduate experience, and invests the energy and time required to support them and encourage them to think of themselves as true researchers.”
Exploring topics ‘across time and geographic space’
Instruction and Assessment Librarian Corey Johnson said he has been impressed with Benedict’s organization and the high value she places on getting the most out of library sessions, both for herself and her students.
“Leah is an excellent candidate for this award because she has high expectations for student research,” Johnson said. “She has her students start the research process by selecting seemingly simple topics. For example, students pick a recipe or some kind of human tool. Then they fan out from there in a variety of directions.
“She challenges students to explore their topics across time and geographic space,” Johnson added. “They look into the political, social, economic and cultural aspects of their topics. The library sessions flow from this approach with, for example, one day focusing on government documents and the next on examining patents and standards.”
A model in her own right
Her students’ future research endeavors aside, Benedict is also a prolific patron of the WSU Libraries. She has checked out scholarly material on philosophies of science and the literature and culture of the 18th century as part of her work studying sexual impotence during this time period.
“I’ve been looking through transcripts of impotency trials, and the library has been kind enough to order some of the more recent scholarship on anatomy and sexuality I’ve asked for, like ‘Sperm Counts: Overcome by Man’s Most Precious Fluid’ and others in similar vein,” Benedict said. “This kind of research takes me into all kinds of weird cultural areas that I would never have imagined how bizarre and wonderful they would be.
“A love of libraries and a love of discovery, they come from the same place,” she added.
Top photo: Benedict, center, with Corey Johnson and Erin Hvizdak (courtesy of WSU Libraries).
By Nella Letizia for WSU Insider