The Library of Congress ... Online for Educators

The Library of Congress is the nation's oldest federal cultural institution. Established in 1800 as a legislative library, it grew into a national institution during the nineteenth century and, since World War II, has become an international resource. It is the largest library in the world, with more than 126 million items on approximately 530 miles of bookshelves. The collections include nearly 19 million books, 2.6 million recordings, 12 million photographs, 4.8 million maps, and 56 million manuscripts.

The Library is an institution of tremendous diversity. Among its many roles it is: the major research arm of the U.S. Congress; the copyright agency of the United States; a government library heavily used by the executive branch and the judiciary; and the world's largest repository of maps, atlases, printed and recorded music, motion pictures and television programs.

For those able to visit in person, there are twenty-two public reading rooms. And for those who cannot be there in person there are the following Library of Congress Web sites, a veritable treasure trove for learners of all ages. Let's explore…

The Learning Page
This site serves as a wonderful "front door" to the Library's diverse materials. It's a simple-but-elegant homepage with clickable links to the six major sections which we will examine in more detail below plus links for a chat section and a "News!" page sharing announcements about conferences, events, new content, and resources of special interest to educators. Plus there's a link to a page highlighting other Library content of special interest to educators. Follow the links to:

Getting Started
This page provides orientation for users of The Learning Page and the American Memory collections. It offers illustrative examples of types of primary sources and how they might be used in the classroom. This section includes information about how to search, link & bookmark, view & listen, print & save, cite sources, understand copyright and fair use. Teachers will also find the links for History Day Resources, Internet Resources, and Read More About It (bibliographies) helpful.

Lesson Plans
Almost seventy lesson plans are currently available, and this page offers educators five ways to search: by Discipline, by Era, by Theme, by Title, or by Topic. All lessons were created by educators and tested in their classrooms. They are presented with required handouts and references and are ready for use "as is" or can be adapted as needed. The lessons look at American History through various perspectives and disciplines. There are also links for using primary materials with students, and more.

Features & Activities
An entire page of links to various activities, each with a short description and suggested grade levels. There are two "Collaborative Activities" (students can interact with the Library and with peers): The "Branding of America" and "The Great American Potluck" allows students to examine, respectively, the influence of name brands and the foods of various groups of Americans. And then there are links to Activities such as: "Women's Words of Wisdom," "From Slavery to Civil Rights," "From Fantasy to Flight," "Zoom into Maps," and many more, all making use of the Library's resources. Finally there are Feature Presentations entitled "American Memory Timeline," "Elections," "Inaugurations," "Immigration," and more.

Collection Connections
Any teacher cannot help but be awed by the Library's incredibly vast array of collections for use with students. Like the Smithsonian, it is a repository of wonderful content for lessons in many subject areas. Clicking on Collection Connections Index brings up an alphabetical list of links for dozens of pages of resources and suggestions for teaching. History buffs will especially enjoy links to topics like: "America Singing: 19th Century Song Sheets," "Civil War Maps," or "Stars and Stripes: the American Soldiers Newspaper of World War I." Like browsing in a dusty old bookstore, one could spend hours here reading, learning, and preparing materials for one's students.

Community Center
This, the newest, section of the Learning Page celebrated its first birthday in October 2003. An attempt to create a community of like-minded educators, it's the place to meet Library staff and educators in monthly, themed conversation through live chats. There are also links to transcripts of archived chats from the past on topics such as baseball, civil rights, and women's history. Click on a link to contribute to The Source, an online newsletter or subscribe to Learning Page E-Mail Updates to hear about new content.

Professional Development
The section is intended to help teachers make use of the Library's resources. It provides access to workshops and institutes (in the Library's Learning Center in Washington, or by video-conference) and an array of downloadable presentations and "handouts" for distribution. In addition, a collection of "Self-Serve Workshops" is available on historical topics, searching techniques, lesson design, an introduction to the collections, and even technical aspects of using the Web for learning and presentation.

The Library of Congress' Main Web Site
This is the portal, to all the resources and sites described both above and below. And to be in the know about the Library's activities at home and outside of Washington visit More Complete News and Events (bottom right on the homepage). Also, to get answers to questions about the Library of Congress click on About the Library. Here are the major links on the Library's Home page.

American Memory
With more than 7 million digital items from more than 100 historical collections, American Memory is a gateway to rich primary source materials relating to the history and culture of the United States. Click on "Collection Finder," and then click on "List All Collections." If you are new to the site, click on Show Descriptions, then scroll down the page and read about the individual collections. The "Today in History" link provides fascinating possibilities for creative lessons. For example, select December 7 from the Archive and find a content-rich page dealing with the attack on Pearl Harbor and Americans' reaction to that attack, and then have your students compare/contrast it with the events of September 11. One caveat: the primary sources in American Memory come 'as is'…without context or a textbook/encyclopedic explanation. While intriguing, they often raise more questions than they answer, making them a wonderful resource for building critical thinking and triggering engaged research. But it's a good idea to structure their use by limiting access to one or two collections or by providing a teacher prepared set of links that will ensure the successful and expedient use of the site.

Global Gateway
Teachers of World History and World Affairs (and in today's world, most teachers have become that) will appreciate the links to "Individual Digital Collections" that focus on international cultures and histories and the bilingual multimedia "Collaborative Digital Libraries," built with international partners. For example, "Parallel Histories: Spain, United States, & the American Frontier" is a wonderful opportunity for advanced Spanish students to read and compare Spanish and English versions. The page also offers many content-rich links at which one can discover unexpected treasures! For example, "Portals to the World" has an alphabetically arranged set of links for every country in the world, a wonderful place for students to explore.

America's Story from America's Library
The target audience for this bright and engaging Web site is the sixth grade student. However, children as young as second grade would enjoy using the site with parent/teacher help and older students appreciate the lighthearted introduction to American History and can use the site to kick off further research. There are five sections, each providing images, stories, and interactive activities.

  • "Meet Amazing Americans" invites students to discover the inventors, politicians, performers, activists and other everyday people who made this country what it is today.
  • "Jump Back in Time" aligns with the National History Standards to guide student exploration of American History.
  • "Explore the States" provides a United States map for navigation and offers interesting images and stories to augment school studies.
  • "Join America at Play" challenges students to discover America's favorite pastimes, sports and hobbies.
  • "See, Hear and Sing" suggests that students "Watch a movie, hear a song, play a tune from America's past."

THOMAS - Legislative Information on the Internet
Whether for serious scholarship, for research by middle school and high school students, or just to see what our elected representatives have been doing, Thomas is an incredible resource. It allows the user to learn the status of legislation in both the House and the Senate for the current legislative session or from past legislative sessions. One can search by bill number or by a key word or phrase. In addition there are links that allow the user to find actual legislation from as far back as the 93d Congress (1973-4); roll-call votes dating back to the 101st Congress (1989-90); and even Committee Reports dating back to the 104th Congress (1995-6). For the government or civics teacher or learner, this site is a gold mine! Dig in and explore or use the Learning Page activity, "Introducing … THOMAS!" to guide your use.

A visit to the Library of Congress to view the exhibitions housed in the beautiful Jefferson Building should be on every tourist's to-do-list. Exhibitions are (which is well worth a visit, in and of itself!). The physical exhibitions are open to all ages, making their viewing a wonderful family or class outing. But for those who cannot be there in person the Library shares them online in online galleries. The galleries are archived for perpetual use on the Web. Try to not get teary-eyed when you bring up, from "American Treasures of the Library of Congress" the original drafts of The Declaration of Independence or the Emancipation Proclamation or the Gettysburg Address! Also, don't miss the beautiful and informative "Rivers Edens and Empires…Lewis and Clark" and the "Revealing of America" exhibit, or the "Bob Hope and American Variety" exhibit. Then, scroll slowly down the home page and visit those exhibits that call to you!

The Wise Guide
Offering bright and breezy content for newcomers, this site is a wonderful place for adults to get started with the Library of Congress Web sites. Offered monthly, in a "magazine" styled format, the site pulls together content from throughout the Library to launch a user's further exploration. For example, clicking on "One Day Her Prince Did Come" brings up an introduction to the Library's Art Wood Collection of Caricature and Cartoon, a collection of 36,000 works by more than 2,800 artists. It's a comprehensive array ranging from political cartoons to comic strips, to animation "cels," (drawings on celluloid) including cels for Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, the first American feature-length Technicolor animated cartoon. Each month's "edition" is archived when the new edition is published, so all editions can be accessed at any time.

All of the above provides just the briefest overview of the wonderful treasures for educators at the Library of Congress Websites. Do come and explore for yourself and for your students all that "the nation's library" has to offer!

Email: Leni Donlan