By YVONNE FRENCH
Twenty-four creative teachers and school librarians from across the country brainstormed about how to make the Library's historical collections of primary source material more accessible to K-12 educators during an Educators Forum at the Library of Congress July 27 and 28.
Brimming with ideas, they shared their insights on the use of digitized Library collections by a group that has historically been denied access to the Library's 22 reading rooms -- those under the age of 18.
But that is changing as the Library's National Digital Library Program, in collaboration with other major research institutions, digitizes 5 million items and places them on the Internet by the year 2000. Although the reading rooms will continue to be reserved for researchers over high school age, many of the Library's core historical American collections will be available on the Internet to everyone.
"Our success -- and the country's success -- will depend heavily on the ability of educators and librarians to make full use of the high-quality cargo we put on the Information Superhighway. We need your advice to ensure that you, your colleagues and your students will be able to use the material we will digitize. We want to know what kinds of collections are most useful to you and your students," Dr. Billington told the teachers.
"The Library's collections are especially rich in the documentation of American history, creativity and culture. These collections tell the multimedia story of America through photographs, diaries, musical scores, sound recordings, personal papers and much more. We hope to make these treasures available to all," Laura Campbell, director of the National Digital Library Program, told participants.
The Educators Forum was organized by the Center for Children and Technology (CCT), a division of the Education Development Center, an education consulting firm in New York City. CCT is working under a $615,000 contract with the Library, made possible by a grant from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, to determine how K- 12 teachers can use digitized versions of primary source materials from the Library's collections. CCT identified teachers who use primary source materials in their classrooms from schools across the country in a range of settings. The forum addressed such issues as the types of primary source materials appropriate for classroom use, how teachers use primary sources, their accessibility and how the Library's archival collections could be most effectively packaged and delivered to schools.
"The teachers' creativity in viewing the historical materials, combined with their knowledge of curriculum and classroom dynamics, provided stimulating discussion," said Martha Dexter of the educational services section of the National Digital Library Program.
The teachers and school library media specialists said they were eager for access to digital versions of documents such as papers of the Founding Fathers, famous speeches, ship manifest lists, historical photographs of people and places, maps, sound recordings, films and drawings. The teachers stressed the need for primary source documents, saying they receive scant attention in textbooks. A computerized facsimile version of a document, for example, would allow students to look at the original lettering in order to develop critical thinking skills, the teachers said.
"I had two fifth-graders reading [a copy of the original] Constitution and they got very excited about decoding the S's," then written like lower-case F's in some instances, said Minna Novick, a Chicago-area elementary school teacher who plans to use the Library's digitized version of a draft of the Declaration of Independence in classrooms this year.
Kim Ford, a junior high school English teacher and media specialist from Memphis, said that period photographs would help her inner-city students visualize the past. Social studies teacher Agnes Dunn from rural Fredericksburg, Va., concurred. "The way you teach critical thinking is to present students with source material and then let them think," she said.
Forum participants stressed that although parts of the Library's digital historical collections are currently available for free on the Internet via the World Wide Web (http://www.loc.gov), they should also be made available on CD-ROM, videodisk and videotape.
During the next eight months, CCT will make recommendations to the Library about how its historical collections can be made more accessible and useful to the K-12 educational community. These recommendations will evolve from working with practicing teachers, who, like those who attended the Educators Forum, regularly use primary sources to teach history, social studies, geography and language arts.
"It was remarkable to watch these teachers at work," said Susan Veccia of the educational services area of the National Digital Library Program. "If there ever was any doubt that primary sources are the foundation of historical inquiry, that thought was put to rest during the course of this forum."
On the second day of the forum, the teachers had a tour of the three Library buildings, followed by a demonstration by Ms. Veccia of several already-digitized collections.
Shown some of the 25,000 turn-of-century photographs of East Coast scenes, the teachers suggested the following classroom uses: create a period-play with appropriate sets and costumes, discuss the change from a rural to an industrial economy and pretend the photographs were postcards and write on the back as if they had "been there, done that," one teacher said.
When they viewed political cartoons about Congress drawn between 1770 and 1981, the teachers suggested caption writing, role playing and incorporating the caricature in a comic strip drawn by the students. High school teachers said they would use the cartoons as a jumping-off point to discuss stereotypes and regional perspectives.
The high school teachers also expressed interest in World War II propaganda posters from the Office of War Information. They said they could use a poster of Rosie the Riveter to compare women's roles of the 1940s with those of the 1950s.
When they saw broadsides from the Constitutional Convention of 1787, they suggested acting out a constitutional convention or designing a constitution for a nation or their school and comparing it to that of the Founding Fathers.
The teachers asked that the documents be comparatively scaled on the computer screen by showing a picture of a person holding them so the students could determine actual sizes.
A refrain among the teachers as they were given an introduction to the riches of the Library's collections was that they wished they could go back to school themselves. As the source materials appeared on the computer screen, they often asked for links to related materials. For example, when they looked at a photograph of a one-room schoolhouse, they wanted to be able to click on an icon that would give a recorded narrative of what it was like in school in the early 19th century.
But Ms. Veccia said the Library provides the collections "as is": a computer facsimile accompanied by detailed cataloging entries. "This is why we call it plain vanilla," Ms. Veccia said in reference to the Library's policy of making primary sources available with no frills or added value. "One of the things we found when we took them around the country was the teachers really liked it because they could send their students out to do the research."
Some of the creative teachers had already turned "plain vanilla" into a learning tool. They said they could ask the students three questions: who collected the items, why they are important and where the originals are kept. The teachers said that coming up with the three answers (librarians, because they were judged to be of historic importance; at the Library of Congress) would help their students start to develop critical thinking skills.