Engage Book Club Readers with Primary Sources from the Library of Congress

This post is by Rebecca Newland, the Library of Congress 2013-14 Teacher in Residence.

As a school librarian, I’ve found that book clubs can draw students into my library and into books by socializing reading. One way to engage students with what they’re reading, without turning an extra-curricular club into a class, is to introduce Library of Congress primary and secondary sources related to a particular book, a particular author, or to reading in general. Below are a number of suggestions for bringing the Library’s resources into a book club.

Charleston at the Capitol

Charleston at the Capitol

Enriching Context with Primary Sources

Primary sources offer a way to immerse students in the context of the book, taking them beyond the pages and into the world that they’re reading about. Even in a casual reading environment, try surrounding your students with photographs, maps, or recordings that evoke another time or place.For students reading The Great Gatsby, you could fill their reading space with photographs and popular music from the 1920s.

You can also explore Chronicling America’s collection of historical newspapers to find reports about events from the time a book takes place or was written.

Watching Author Talks

Host author talks using the video archives of the National Book Festival. View a few of the talks to decide on a book the club would like to read next.

October's "bright blue weather" A good time to read!.

October’s “bright blue weather” A good time to read!

Promoting Reading

Dedicate a bulletin board to promoting reading. Students who join book clubs are often avid readers who love to share books with others. Show these beautiful posters created in the 1920s, 30s, and 40s by the WPA. Invite students to observe the posters closely.

Use these questions to start a conversation: In what ways are the posters persuasive? What details did the artists use to make reading appealing to viewers? What details would encourage modern students to read?

Work with students to create their own posters either for specific books they have loved or to promote reading. Hang the posters in both the library and around the school. (Fun hint for librarians: Add splashes of color to library displays with posters encouraging the appropriate treatment of books.)

Read Classic Books Online

Read the classic versions of books available free online from the Library of Congress. Many are beautifully illustrated to inspire reading. Ask book club members to create their own illustrations for a book you read. Bind these to add to your library’s collection.

Have you brought primary sources into a book club? Let us know how in the comments.

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