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.


  1. C. Rich
    April 3, 2014 at 11:16 am

    You are preaching to the choir, Cheryl and Rebecca!!
    I LOVE to find advertisements from Chronicling America that help set the tone of a particular time period or place. Prices always shock students. It is fun to look at how similar products are promoted differently in 1914 and 2014, if those products even still exist.
    Personally, nothing is sweeter than seeing students make that connection between here & there or then & now. Thanks for the great posts!

  2. S. Pfohman
    April 3, 2014 at 12:41 pm

    Ask your math teachers to show students how to calculate prices for the time periods you are studying. If they are in high school, all you need to do is assume or research a reasonable inflation rate, write and exponential equation and solve for prices from the past. This is a nice way to incorporate numeracy/mathematics with Primary Sources and reading.

  3. Milissa
    April 13, 2014 at 10:43 am

    Great idea. But I teach ELA. I will definitely be learning how to calculate the inflation rate.

  4. Michele Grandovic
    April 14, 2014 at 7:00 pm

    I absolutely enjoyed reading your blog entitled, “Engage Book Club Readers with Primary Sources from the Library of Congress”. I like the fact that you create an engaging environment to set the stage for the readings. I just recently learned about Using Primary Sources of Information and am in total agreement that selecting pieces from the Library of Congress will captivate the students. As a special education and reading teacher, I work closely with our school’s librarian. Many times we have collaborated when we had a podcast conducted by a popular author or the presentation by First Lady Barbara Bush on literacy. The high school students are definitely interested as we create dynamic teaching lessons from these opportunities. Additionally, I have life skill students that access the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh website and choose books that they can read on-line. They really enjoy reading books this way as well as creating posters and journal entries on their books.

Add a Comment

This blog is governed by the general rules of respectful civil discourse. You are fully responsible for everything that you post. The content of all comments is released into the public domain unless clearly stated otherwise. The Library of Congress does not control the content posted. Nevertheless, the Library of Congress may monitor any user-generated content as it chooses and reserves the right to remove content for any reason whatever, without consent. Gratuitous links to sites are viewed as spam and may result in removed comments. We further reserve the right, in our sole discretion, to remove a user's privilege to post content on the Library site. Read our Comment and Posting Policy.

Required fields are indicated with an * asterisk.