Welcome to our Teaching 101 series, through which we will examine library instruction & teaching, highlighting best practices from multiple instructional lenses. The series will feature both how-to and reflective posts that the Teaching SIG Blog Team hopes will help inspire your instructional practices, wherever you are in your career. We welcome feedback on the direction of the series, as well as proposals for your own takes on instructional best practices.

This month, our topic is creating learning outcomes for specific learners. For our first post of the series, we are delighted to welcome Carol Ng-He, member of the Teaching SIG Blog Team. Carol’s post, coming from a public library lens, speaks to creating learning outcomes for a public library exhibit. Be on the lookout for our second post on this topic, targeted towards creating outcomes within the academic library context, later this month.

Creating an outcomes-based public library exhibit

Carol Ng-He

I always think of teaching in an expansive way. It can go beyond the walls of a classroom or a building and transport learners to a different world. For me, exhibits are a tool of teaching because they engage learners (visitors) in making connections with prior knowledge, developing new insights and skills, learning from one another, and improving their emotional well-being as they enjoy themselves in the process of discovery and learning.

At Arlington Heights Memorial Library, I coordinate the planning, execution, and evaluation of exhibits for visitors of all ages. We are fortunate to have the opportunity to produce exhibits in-house and host traveling exhibits from other cultural organizations across the country. One benefit of having exhibits at the library, especially for youth and family, is that we completely remove the economic barrier for visitors and make the learning experience free and accessible for everyone. To ensure high impacts of the exhibits we produce or host, developing and achieving learning outcomes is vital for us.

An overview ofXOXO: An Exhibit About Love & Forgiveness at the Arlington Heights Memorial Memorial in 2018

Understanding our own learning outcomes for exhibits allows us to provide better customer service and align our outcomes with their expectations of the library. As public libraries function more as a dynamic community hub than ever, creating learning outcomes for them must engage various stakeholders. It must be done carefully.

So what have I learned about creating learning outcomes for exhibits at our library? Here are some thoughts:

  1. Learn from staff across the library – We have a team that serves to advise on exhibit development in the library. It is composed of staff members representing various departments, from Communications & Marketing to Youth Services and more. The group meets regularly to discuss, formulate, and revisit goals of our exhibits. Members share their observations, ideas, and emerging trends in their respective field at the meeting to help the library stay abreast of community needs.
  2. Learn from the community – We have been collecting visitors’ feedback on their exhibit experience using customized surveys on iPads placed throughout the exhibit area. The data provides critical insights and direct responses from visitors on types of things they want to see and learn through exhibits and associated activities in our library.
  3. Learn from the field – Using family-oriented exhibits as an example, since children and family are one of our primary service groups, we draw recommendations from local and national early childhood practitioners and other children’s museum professionals when we run family-oriented exhibits. Their research helps us advocate for play-based exhibits that are essential to children’s development. In the case of adult-oriented exhibits, we seek suggestions from other exhibit development groups, as well as art and history museum networks.
  4. Take consideration of the role of exhibits in changing visitors’ perceptions and behaviors – Our exhibits can be a conduit to heighten visitors’ awareness of different issues, correct misconceptions, broaden their view on the subject presented, and more importantly, help them to grow in empathy. Through the survey we conduct, we look for keywords that reflect these changes and these cue us on how well we succeed in meeting our set learning outcomes.

All in all, it takes collaboration and elasticity to create a welcoming and inclusive (physically and mentally) space where everyone can learn and engage through exhibits. By carefully selecting and scaffolding the exhibit elements with key stakeholders of the library, exhibits can bind the community together and inspire curiosity.

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