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One woman watches as another examines with a magnifying glass an ornate, decorative image on a printed page
Teachers explore Library of Congress primary sources. (Stephen Wesson/Library of Congress)

Selecting Primary Sources, Part IV: Considering Quality

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This is the final post in a series discussing characteristics to consider when selecting primary sources to use with your students.

At the beginning of each Library of Congress Summer Teacher Institute, the participants introduce themselves and explain their goals for the week. In every group of teachers there are a few that explain that they just received an interactive white board or a class set of iPods, iPads, or laptops and are interested in finding digitized primary source content they can use with the new technology.

Images of Hopi women at the "mealing trough".
“The mealing trough–Hopi.” By Edward S. Curtis, c1906.

With the push for technology in schools and stories of districts going “one-to-one,” it’s easy to forget that there are still many teachers and students with very little access to technology.

The good news is that the Library of Congress is working to make its digitized resources accessible and useful to all teachers, no matter what classroom technology they have available. And with millions of digitized items, it is important to select primary sources that are high quality.

A great place to begin your search is the Library of Congress Teachers Page where you’ll find sets of 15-20 primary sources, organized by topic, that include some of the most engaging and highest quality items from the Library’s collections.

In these primary source sets, the digitized primary sources, which are perfect for teachers with access to technology, are accompanied by printable PDF versions, for those without a projector or class set of laptops.

In addition to the Teachers Page, we encourage you to explore the rest of the Library of Congress Web site.

When you select high quality primary sources to use with your students, consider the following factors:

  • Clarity, resolution: Are you using the highest quality image or film available on the Library’s Web site? Is the image or film clear enough for students to find important details and make reflections about what’s happening?

Hint: Images on the Library of Congress Web site often have several downloadable versions, including various JPEG and TIFF file sizes. Consider using a larger file type when projecting an image or enlarging an image for printable handouts.

  • Legibility of text/handwriting: Is the text clearly printed and legible? Can your students read and understand cursive handwriting?

Hint: Some digitized manuscripts from the Library’s collections are accompanied by transcripts. The transcripts are a tool that can accompany a primary source and make it easier to use with students.

  • Audibility, background noises: Is the voice in the sound recording or film loud and clear enough for students to understand the message? Are there background noises that make the message inaudible?

Hint: The Library of Congress’ National Jukebox includes more than 10,000 recordings made by the Victor Talking Machine Company between 1901 and 1925. You can browse the recordings and create playlists to stream in class.

  • Ability to zoom in on details: Do the digitized images or maps have the ability to zoom in on details? Can the same zoom ability be recreated in print form, or is the primary source best used in its digital format?

Hint: The digitized maps from the Library’s Map Collections have a zoom view that enables viewers to find minute details on the high resolution maps.

I used the image in this blog post when working with 2nd grade students who were studying Native American tribes. The crispness of the photo lent itself to close observation of details.

Please share one of your favorite high-quality primary sources from the Library’s collections by linking to it in your comment. If you’ve used the primary source with students, what was the topic of your lesson?

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  1. I selected the Ptolemaic Concept of the Universe. The digital ID is cph 3a44868 http://hdl.loc.gob/loc.pnp/cph.3a44868

    I used this in my 7th grade science class last week because the quality was so good that I was able to project it on my smart board and students could clearly discern the symbols for each planet as well as the decorative work on the illustration.

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