“Most people don't realize how important librarians are. I ran across a book recently which suggested that the peace and prosperity of a culture was solely related to how many librarians it contained. Possibly a slight overstatement. But a culture that doesn't value its librarians doesn't value ideas and without ideas, well, where are we?”
Neil Gaiman

Saturday, January 2, 2016

Using the Library of Congress Archives to Teach Visual Literacy

My favorite part of travelling to national library conferences is meeting innovative professionals and hearing about the remarkable things they are doing in libraries with young people. At the AASL National Conference in Columbus during the first week of November, I got to meet librarian Tom Bober and hear a wonderful presentation about using Library of Congress digital resources -- with elementary school students! Tom is an elementary school librarian from Clayton, MO currently serving as teacher in residence at the Library of Congress (http://captainlibrary.blogspot.com/).

There is still such a huge misconception among the general public about just what the role of a school librarian is, what sort of training goes into becoming one, and what we teach. Yes, we do curate collections of books, in all of their formats. We are champions of literacy, although not just in the traditional sense. What sets school librarians aside from other types of librarians is our role in teaching students the skills for ethically using, critically evaluating, effectively searching for, and successfully synthesizing information in an increasingly diverse variety of formats. What I loved about Tom’s AASL presentation was the way he is taking these critical skills and scaffolding them down to our youngest learners so that even Kindergarten students are building a base in research skills.

Just before Thanksgiving break, I had an opportunity to experiment with one of his lesson ideas with my 3rd and 5th graders. The lesson used a series of photographs from the Library of Congress digital archives. The photos depict scenes from a family Thanksgiving dinner in 1940. Most of the photos are taken from various perspectives of a single room. Students were tasked with examining the photos and creating a room diagram showing placement of furniture, doors, windows, etc.
It was fascinating to see students working through the thought process of trying to record only what they see and not what they think they are seeing. Many of them initially started drawing and labelling things as they saw them in relation to their own homes -- kitchen, dining room, family room, mud room, etc. It was a wonderful exercise in visual perception and point of view and quite different from what they are used to doing in school.

The biggest challenge I found was time. We only have a short 45 minute library class and that really wasn’t enough time to effectively complete the exercise. I would also have limited the photos to just the ones showing a single room. Overall, however, I count the lesson as a success and am excited to try more of the lesson ideas from the Library of Congress website in the future! Thanks Tom!

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