Discover the Power of Library of Congress Primary Sources…and Books

This guest post is from the Library of Congress Teacher in Residence, Earnestine Sweeting.

Did you miss the 2012 Library of Congress National Book Festival?  The weekend was filled with bestselling authors, book-signings, and presentations.  The Library of Congress had its own pavilion featuring Library staff introducing attendees to the wonders of the Library.  The Library’s K-12 education staff were there talking about the Library’s free educational resources and giving away appreciation gifts for teachers and school librarians.

Many units within the Library had the opportunity to do a presentation for attendees. Educational Outreach staff helped attendees “Discover the Power of Library of Congress Primary Sources…and Books”.  I’ve been a teacher for many years but I’ve never taught in such an environment.  Imagine an outdoor classroom with hundreds of kids and families strolling, life-sized story book characters roaming, and bursts of cheers booming from tents near and far – during instruction?  I knew that it would be a challenge to engage the audience in deep thinking amidst the excitement.

Analyzing Primary Sources at the National Book Festival

To start, I prepared book festival-goers to draw conclusions and make inferences for a set of three primary sources.  Then I asked that they keep mental notes about each item individually, but also plan to formulate a hypothesis about the relationship between the three primary sources.  First, visitors were invited to analyze their own printout of a drawing by civil war sketch artist Alfred Waud, discuss their observations with a neighbor and say what they thought when they viewed the picture.  “It looks like people helping the injured,” a response called out from the distance.  Another response called out from an even further distance wondered, “Is this from the Civil War?”

Citizen Volunteers Assisting the Wounded in the Field of Battle

We then looked at two additional primary sources, President Lincoln with Gen. George B. McClellan and group of officers  along with a Map of the Battle of Antietam, to confirm ideas about this event.  These primary sources were selected to support a picture book, Just in Time, Abraham Lincoln by award-winning author Patricia Polacco.

Picture books are often used to engage elementary students.  Here are some ways teachers can incorporate primary sources associated with other books:

Students can:

  • Distinguish differences between fiction and nonfiction books about the same event.
  • Evaluate diverse interpretations by examining images of the same event by different artists.
  • Select an image depicting one or more people.  Study the image and write dialogue or “thought bubbles” to accompany the image.
  • Participate in a discussion about a primary source as work of art. Use visual evidence as a prompt to write hypotheses about a time period, theme, or event

Find step-by-step instructions on how primary sources can be used to enhance books in Book Backdrops, one of the Library’s ready-to-use and downloadable professional development activities.

Tell us how you might use primary sources with books to help your students read closely and better understand literary and informational text.

3 Comments

  1. A.Prof.MOSSAYYEB SAMANIAN
    October 12, 2012 at 11:02 am

    the books are two axio .when you studies any books you may select two way after study:1 you can to agree with athour,s idea if you right you use this idea any where and development that idea2-you can dont accept with book,s matter you can protest that idea
    the libraries can developing any ideas good and bad
    the libraries are manpower center in the world

  2. Ruth Ferris
    August 1, 2014 at 9:16 am

    Book Backdrop link is broken within the post. You can find this information if you go to the Professional Development section.

  3. Danna Bell
    August 1, 2014 at 9:31 am

    Thanks for letting us know Ruth. The link has been fixed.

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