By ANGELA BELLIN
"When I first came to the Library, I went through the collections and I had so much fun discovering. It was as though it were my second childhood," recalled Dr. Billington. "And I thought to myself, 'Why shouldn't all children have this, instead of just adults discovering their second childhood?'"
So said the Librarian at the 1999 American Memory Fellows Institute. The American Memory Web site offers millions of items in more than 60 collections from the Library's incomparable materials relating to American history.
"The American Memory project is a wonderful hook to pull people back into reading, " explained Dr. Billington, "It asks questions ... in which the answers can only be found with a combination of new and old technology and human involvement."
First held in 1997, the American Memory Fellows Institute is an opportunity for teams of outstanding middle and high school humanities teachers and library or media specialists to improve the teaching of American history and culture in their schools by using digitized primary sources from the Library. The Center for Children and Technology in New York City works with Library staff on organizaing and presenting the institute.
Each year the Library selects 25 teams of two to participate in the program. To apply, applicants must include a proposal detailing how they would work as a team and how they would use primary sources in the classroom.
The institute was held July 18-23. Following an orientation, attendees gathered in the newly renovated National Digital Library Learning Center for brief training (see LC Information Bulletin, July 1999). The center serves as the Library's facility for demonstration and instruction on using primary sources from the American Memory collection. Presentations by Library staff were followed by tours of Library collections.
The remainder of the week was focused on lesson building and mini-workshops. On the last day, the participants unveiled their lesson plans to their peers and participated in a "town meeting" with Dr. Billington.
Barbara Markham of Padua Academy in Wilmington, Del., summarized the experience for many of the 1999 Fellows by addressing Dr. Billington during the Friday meeting:
"When I came to this program, I probably [knew] the least of everyone in this group, in terms of technology. I considered myself the technology caboose. I think the staff here has been so wonderful. It's just been a tremendous experience."
All participants in the institute must agree to "spread the word" about what they have learned, in order to increase the program's impact across the nation. Several of the workshops focused on the best ways for the Fellows to disseminate their ideas, including making visits to other schools and libraries and sharing lesson plans on the Library's Learning Page Web site, which is designed for K-12 educators and students to guide them on using the American Memory collections.
Monica Edinger, a 1997 Fellow, explained she was writing a book on the importance of primary sources and intended to include a chapter on American Memory. Linda Joseph, also a 1997 Fellow, mentioned the CyberBee column she writes for Multimedia Schools magazine. Joyce Valenza, a 1998 Fellow who writes for several publications and speaks at school library conferences, counseled the group, "Just weave it in everywhere."
The Fellows will spend the 1999-2000 school year refining the lesson plans they developed during the institute and posting their modifications online. To keep the momentum of the institute going, the Fellows may participate in the American Memory Fellows listserv and other e-mail discussion groups. This online community of past Fellows, Library staff and other educational professionals will focus on finding ways to further develop all aspects of American Memory in order to make the collections as useful as possible to as many teachers as possible.
Ms. Bellin is an intern in the Public Affairs Office.