Library Vs. Web Browsing: 30 Sources for Projects
Updated: Jul 5, 2021
I teach an elective called Media Studies and now that we’re online, I had to make a major shift from how class normally runs. I typically start class with a source from one of the four units: social media, culture, news, and art. One webpage leads to another as the conversation changes and as students talk about different news stories, shows, music, or celebrities.
When I allow them to browse and find their own sources, I think about the difference between the walking-browsing that we do around a library and online browsing. When I browse with my feet, I encounter titles that catch my eye and then immerse myself in random ideas. When I browse online, there’s an algorithm that guides my way through the virtual universe, where clicks are predetermined affairs, and knowledge only comes because we seek it out with a search term. New ideas and random ideas get filtered out.
The web has become just as curated as education, where we hand-deliver books from closets and tell students exactly what they need to read. This is still important - deciding what to call literature is one of an English teacher’s most challenging and important responsibilities. Education without a guide would look and feel like clicking through the hundreds of shows on television. Children would rarely discover a quality program or be able to contextualize it. However, there’s always a time and place to set students free.
So how do we bring back the unexpected? As hard as it is, we need to refrain from giving a specific topic. It’s wonderful to walk around a library with students, but we can also ask them to browse the internet with their feet, where something new appears without any assistance. We become open-minded when ideas find us, not when we find them. They surprise us and then change us. I’ve compiled a list of websites that lend themselves to encountering the random and the unknown, the source of all curiosity.
For one of the last parts of my year-long project, I ask my students to pick something beautiful, inspiring, or creative and then talk about why they love it. It may or may not connect to the literature we studied and it doesn't have to involve media - it could be a person, place, skill, or object.
Artstor (subscription required)
Digital Public Library of America