Information Literacy Takes a Roadtrip
My faculty group went on retreat this past weekend to Sapelo Island, Georgia. This place is magical – saturated with peaceful beauty and history. Five years or so have passed since our last trip, and a few things have changed. There is a new, faster ferry boat. Dolphins are still around, but water levels in the salt marsh seemed lower. A patch of trees has succumbed to pine beetles. The biggest changes, however, relate to humans and technology. The Reynolds Mansion is now connected to the Internet with good wireless access.
During my last visit, I relied on books, the Visitor’s Center, and a human guide to explain some of the things I saw. Very little information was available online. This time, however, I could do so much more to answer the questions that naturally arose about the visit.
While there, we spent most of our time in meetings, and our precious free time walking the beach, the grounds of the Reynolds Mansion, and to the lighthouse and back. Naturally, I became curious about the history of the place and the natural wonders all around. Our meeting schedule, however, left no time for research.
When I returned home, the first thing I did was to look up Sapelo on Google Maps to see the satellite view of where we had been. I traced the ferry route, spotted the mansion’s rooftop through the trees, and overlooked the beach and lighthouse. Next, I found Sapelo in the Digital Library of Georgia. Here, I found a clear, concise article in the New Encyclopedia of Georgia that explained the history stretching back to Spanish Colonial times. A meta-search of the DLG produced 166 hits, many of them from the photograph collection Vanishing Georgia. Pictures from someone’s old photo album from the early part of the 20th century showed the Mansion as it was after its Civil War ransacking, and then after it was rebuilt (with cows napping under the trees next to the pool in front), and then again after more renovations changed its style to the elegant villa it is today. There are also pictures of Presidents Coolidge and Hoover visiting, and Charles Lindbergh standing next to his airplane; it is easy to get the sense of Roaring Twenties opulence and long weekend visits to wealthy coastal houses.)
After spending several hours looking through the collections of the DLG, I took a chance on YouTube to see what other visitors might have recorded on Sapelo. I found only a few of the touristy videos I expected. However, I lucked upon a clip that lead to a treasure of a film about the Geechee culture. The video Home Across the Water, made in the early 90s, is available for streaming from Folkstreams. One of the few remaining intact Geechee communities, Hog Hammock, is on Sapelo. In danger of disappearing due to economic pressures, this group of African-Amercan slave descendents traces its roots back to West Africa in an unbroken line. Interesting today because of their language, handicrafts, way of life, and mixture of African and Caribbean influences, much of Georgia history can be traced alongside their colorful past.
History comes alive as you think about what happened long ago on the spot you’re standing on. This kind of relevance is interesting to children, too. A weekend visit to Sapelo could turn into an interdisciplinary inquiry experience touching every subject area: math (calculating distances and working with GPS technology); language arts (comparing the Geechee translation of the Bible to other versions); social studies (exploring the historical, geographical, and economical aspects already mentioned); science (wondering how global warming will affect Sapelo, its many creatures, and its estuarine environment; and the arts (investigating the wall murals and many framed old Audubon prints in the mansion). Any trip, long or short, can become such an interdisciplinary experience enriched before and after by online information access.
My Sunday afternoon of research shows how important it is to use both the vetted resources provided by librarians along with the free and collaborative 2.0 technologies growing by leaps and bounds. Without YouTube (as indexed by Google), I would not have found the wonderful Folkstreams video. Ultimately, everything I found was important to satisfy my curiosity. The resources are there and are not likely to disappear; we must learn how to use them and open them up for our students.
Mary Ann Fitzgerald, University of Georgia