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Five Questions with Shelley NiTuama, on detail to Educational Outreach from the National Endowment for the Humanities

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This post was written by Shelley NiTuama, a Literature and Language Specialist at the National Endowment for the Humanities currently on detail to Educational Outreach at the Library of Congress.

Shelley NiTuama

Describe what you do at the Library of Congress and the materials you work with.

This current assignment has brought me full spiral. In the early 2000s I interned for two winters here at the American Folk life Center to fulfill the final requirements for my Masters of Library and Information Science degree. In the intervening years, I served first as a children’s services librarian for a public library branch, then as a school librarian and chair of the Library Department in independent and public school systems. While at the National Endowment for the Humanities, I served for seven years as a writer/editor developing educational resources for the EDSITEment project, the agency’s arm to the K-16 community of educators. At this point, I’m delighted to be back at the Library in a new incarnation as a librarian-educator. I’m excited to be able to bring all that professional experience to bear in my current charge, which is to engage audiences in creating and sharing knowledge, inspire a love of reading and research, and inform the public about the treasures here.

What are some of your favorite items from the Library’s online collections?

Here are a handful of the many crown jewels I have found valuable in my own writing and research:

Letter from Ralph Waldo Emerson to Walt Whitman, 07/21/1885

Ralph Waldo Emerson’s letter to Walt Whitman penned July 21, 1855 where the elder writer heralds the first edition of Leaves of Grass as a “sunbeam” of “extraordinary wit and wisdom,” and provides encouragement to the new writer as he embarked on his vocation writing poetry.

Several gems relate to my favorite American poet, Robert Frost: a 1959 interview with the author himself; a literary celebration of Frost’s birthday; a collection of Frost’s chapbooks that constitute a charming, little known, annual tradition performed by this author each holiday season for over thirty years—composing original greeting cards!

Finally, through Carol Highsmith’s collection of photographs, a national repository of immense generosity, Americans can visit every corner of our nation. Favorites include our nation’s capital decked out in its riotous springtime cherry blossoms and Library of Congress’s own marbled halls graced with classical motifs embodying the ideals of civilization…

Wilbur Wright to Octave Chanute, 5/13/1900

Share a time when an item from the collections sparked your curiosity.

Wilbur Wright’s iconic letter articulating “the belief that flight is possible to man,” addressed to aeronautical pioneer Octave Chanute, opens a window back in time for students to grasp the scientific and historic importance of a seminal moment of technological discovery. I was attracted to the letter and developed classroom activities to build contextual knowledge across three subject disciplines: English language arts, history/social studies, and STEM.

Tell us about a memorable interaction with a K-12 teacher or student.

School librarians sometimes underestimate our influence on students. Though we might not have as direct an impact as a classroom teacher who is with them daily, nonetheless, the connections we make can be quite profound.

This came home to me one year when I was serving as the Upper school librarian at an independent school. A graduating senior paid me a surprise visit stopping into the school library on her way to graduation practice. She wanted to thank me for the guidance I had given her in the formation of her senior thesis topic, noting because of that, “I wrote the paper I wanted to write, not the one my teachers wanted me to.”

What’s one thing you’d like to tell teachers about the materials that you work with or the collections in general?

The Library of Congress is a research and information repository for members of Congress and their staffs as well as for scholars who are able to spend time in the physical Reading Rooms using the phenomenal resources offered here. But this is also America’s national library; as the Library of the People, its treasures belong to all of us. Thanks to the Internet and digitization, these online collections and sources of information are now accessible anywhere. Check out the resources for teachers. And if you do happen to visit Washington, D.C., you are welcomed to stop in to the Young Readers Center, a space especially created for young people, on the ground floor of the Jefferson Building.

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