An Abundance of Resources at the Library of Congress

Down in the south we are already back into our first week of school, and it’s been exciting to return this year immediately (ie. 24 hours!) after a weeklong Institute at the Library of Congress on Teaching with Primary Sources. It’s just like returning from the AISL conference each spring, when every conversation seems to start, “This totally relates to what I just learned…”


I highly recommend the Institute to other librarians, and while information hasn’t been posted for the 2016 season yet, it will be here once it is finalized:

I’m familiar with professional development that separates teachers and librarians, or for which librarians are ineligible, and I’m happy to report that librarians are embraced here as educational leaders. In our group of 26, about a quarter were librarians and the rest were English, History, Humanities, and elementary teachers. There’s tremendous benefit when teachers and librarians take the time to collaboratively plan lessons.

I have to admit that before this Institute, I was a bit intimidated by the Library of Congress’ website. I knew that there was a lot of information available, but I never felt like I had the time to navigate its resources successfully. With my “playtime” in DC, however, I am much more comfortable searching, especially now that I realize how many resources have already been hand-selected and placed into units by their staff of educators. So, here are five places I’d recommend for you and your faculty to start exploring the Library of Congress online! The next time you’re in DC, I also highly recommend a visit to the architecturally-stunning Jefferson Building with its spectacular main Reading Room and free museum-quality exhibitions.

  1. One of the most interesting discussions that we had was trying to answer the question, “What is a primary source?” Students often think this is cut-and-dry, but discussing the nuances with other teachers was fascinating since sources can be primary or secondary depending on what you are studying. Primary sources are interesting because they are raw materials, not predigested summaries, so the viewer automatically engages in critical thinking: gauging credibility, examining perspective, looking at what’s being said and what’s being left out, and seeing the human side of history. This Primary Source Analysis Tool can be adapted for a variety of sources, and the question marks to the right of “Observe,” “Reflect,” and “Question” will help guide students through the process of analyzing primary sources thoroughly.

    Behind the scenes in the card catalog room!

  1. If you are looking for lesson plans in a variety of disciplines that utilize primary sources, check out this Lesson Plans page. More of the lessons are for Middle and High school courses, but they are well thought-out, and they provide all materials in one convenient location. There’s a huge variety, everything from The New England Fishing Industry to Baseball, Race Relations, and Jackie Robinson and Natural Disasters: Nature’s Fury.
  1. Similarly, if you want the primary source materials for a lesson idea that you have, the Primary Source Sets might be a better bet. Topics include subjects commonly studied in school, like the Civil War, the Industrial Revolution, and the Wright Brothers. The education team has worked to choose resources in a variety of formats, so you might find letters, government documents, advertisements, pictures, music files, videos, maps, and more. I personally love that the oral histories have a pdf transcript with their record, so you can specifically target the minutes of the presentation that are relevant to the subject at hand—a big time-saver in lesson prep!
  1. Chronicling America is a fun way to explore newspapers from 1836-1922 (oh how I sometimes lament copyright limitations) in their original typesetting. It’s fun to look at layouts and to compare coverage of topics from different papers. There are many filtering options to target your results, and the site scans all text for your search terms, not just the headlines, and highlights results. I’ve enjoyed looking for the small town where my school is located and seeing what was written in the news a century ago. 


  1. This last one isn’t a Library of Congress resource per se, but it’s a strategy that the facilitators employed as we completed each activity. Instead of telling us what to do, we completed activities as though we were the students. Time was built in after every activity for reflection; we contemplated the strategies the facilitators used and how we felt as students in the learning process. This reflection helped us think critically about the lesson, both the content and the structure. For years, I have been a huge fan of Harvard’s Project Zero Visible Thinking routines. Using these, students are more comfortable with the process of learning and expressing what’s going on in their minds.


This is the tip of the iceberg, and I’m happy to provide more information about any materials of interest. If you have any resources to share about primary sources or about amazing professional development experiences, please share below!

One thought on “An Abundance of Resources at the Library of Congress

  1. Just got around to reading this blog post– so interesting! Looking forward to sharing these resources with our history faculty and adding a few to our own units. Looks like a great prof growth opportunity. Thanks, Christina!

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