Author - Esther Kligman-Frey

Library of Congress: The Power of Many Primary Sources

Written by CUE Member and Guest Blogger Esther Kligman-Frey

Library of Congress- North

History and LOC statistics                                        

The Library of Congress (LOC) is the largest library in the world with millions of books, recordings, photographs, maps and manuscripts in its collection. It has nearly 158 million items on approximately 838 miles of bookshelves; 36,000 cataloged books & other print materials in 460 languages. The library began in 1800 inside the U.S. Capitol, and now occupies three buildings on Capitol Hill.  It is the oldest cultural institution in the nation.

The Library of Congress created the American Memory website in 1995 to provide public access to digitized versions of materials from the LOC collections. The LOC website contains more then 25,000,000 digitized items.

What is on the LOC website?

The website includes the following sections: American Memory Collection (free and open access to historic maps, photos documents, audio and video); Exhibition (presentations of treasures from the collections, past and present); Congress.com (legislative information from the LOC: current and historical); World Digital Library (global partnerships of cultural treasures from around the world); Veteran’s History Project (first hand accounts of veterans and people on the home front); myLOC.gov (creating one’s own virtual collection in the LOC Experience); the Digital Collections & Services; Teachers page; and the “Ask A Librarian” feature.  All these sections are rich in primary sources.

What are Primary Sources?

Promoting the use of Primary Source material in the classroom is a major goal of the LOC. Primary sources are original documents and objects, which were created at the time under study, by people who lived during that period. Primary sources help students relate in a personal way to events of the past and promote a deeper understanding of history as a series of human events. Examining primary sources gives students a powerful sense of history and the complexity of the past. Helping students analyze primary sources can also guide them toward higher-order thinking and better critical thinking and analysis skills.

3b41800vMy Experience with the LOC

I was fortunate enough to attend a week-long Teacher Institute in Washington, DC in 2011 at the Library of Congress.  My particular interest was in exploring the history of Photography.  From that experience, came an opportunity to be part of a book project.  I contributed a lesson to the book, INTERACTING WITH HISTORY – Teaching with Primary Sources.  My lesson is titled “Interview a Portrait.” The lesson is a compilation of materials between the LOC and SFMOMA.  The Migrant Mother is an example of a photograph used in the Interview a Portrait lesson.



What Do You See?

This is a class starter.  It is the pre-exercise to a lesson where students analyze historical photography and prints.  Asking students to look carefully at an image and write on a sticky, what do they see?  This exercise leads to analyzing primary source lessons – OBSERVE (what do you see?), REFLECT (test hypotheses about image) and QUESTIONS (who, what, where, when and how?)

Other class starters, on the website, include: Today in History, American Memory Timeline, Jump Back in time, Places in the News (Headline locations from the Library’s map collections) and Everyday Mysteries (Science).

Teacher’s Page

The Teacher’s Page includes many resources: Classroom Materials (Lesson Plans, Themed Resources, Primary Source Sets, Presentations and Activities, and Collection Connections); Professional Development opportunities (self-paced online modules, Guide for Facilitators, Webinars, Summer Teacher Institutes); Teaching with Primary Sources Partners (educational organizations deliver local professional training); Using Primary Sources (how to begin using PS in your classroom); and Additional Resources (online, outside the library, and class starters).

The Library of Congress lesson plans meets Common Core standards, state content standards, and the standards of national organizations.

The Library of Congress was initially established as the research arm of Congress and it is considered the national library of the United States.  With the addition of the Digital Collection, teachers and students from across the Nation can do research and discover a wealth of information in a variety of subject area: history, political science, language arts, photography, performing arts and science.

All LOC information and photographs courtesy of the Library of Congress.

ekfreyEsther Kligman-Frey is a Teacher Trainer.  She has done training and presentations for the Library of Congress, SFMOMA and KQED, and is a frequent presenter at CUE Conferences.  She is a past board member for her local affiliate, NBCUE, serving two terms and currently serves on their Advisory Board.

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