Enacting Leadership. Taking the Lead with Primary Sources

Taking on an instructional leadership role has become a critical part of what we do as school librarians. It is more than just collaborating or developing a collection that supports the curriculum. It is about actively participating and leading in the curriculum and instructional program of your school— and, most importantly, being recognized and respected as a teacher.

Inquiry is a process of active learning that is driven by questioning and critical thinking. A natural way to engage students in this type of learning is through the use of primary sources. In using primary sources, students ask questions, make inferences, interpret different points of view, and draw conclusions—in other words, learn to think critically (Stripling 2009).Primary sources bring history to life. As instructional leaders, librarians can use primary sources to capture students’ interest, enhance a classroom teacher’s unit and lesson plans, and ultimately leverage an opportunity to teach through inquiry. Though not every critical source is available digitally or online, the increasing development of open-access projects such as the Digital Public Library of America (DPLA; http://dp.la), Europeana Collections (http://www.europeana.eu/portal/en), and StoryCorps (https://storycorps.org) have opened up endless possibilities.

DPLA is a portal through which over 13 million resources from the nation’s archives, libraries, universities, and museums are accessible online. In 2014, DPLA began to curate and develop “100 Primary Source Sets.” Each of the Primary Source Sets includes a topic overview, ten to fifteen primary sources, links to related resources, a teaching guide that includes discussion questions and classroom activities, and additional primary source research tools. The topics extend beyond social studies and history and are curated around great works in literature, science and technology, the arts, contemporary social movements, and more, covering the period from 1400 to the present.

Europeana Collections has a similar structure to DPLA with over 53,796,847 resources from museums, archives, and libraries throughout Europe in a wide array of languages. The language of materials varies by source institution, but there are also twenty languages available  within the Europeana Collections interface, making this an excellent resource for studying foreign languages or working with ELL students. Sources in Europeana Collections are searchable by topic including themes or genres, a color search of artworks, a search by contributing institution, and a biographical search. Collection topics range from spices to science and machines to World War I and the different faces of Europe.

StoryCorps’ mission is “to preserve and share humanity’s stories in order to build connections between people and create a more just and compassionate world” (https://storycorps.org/about/). In 2003, StoryCorps began recording brief and personal interviews capturing the experiences of everyday individuals. Today, the stories are searchable and accessible via the StoryCorps website and app. The app has brought the interview process to a new level by allowing users to interview each other in the comfort of their home, classroom, or wherever they use their smartphone or tablet. For librarians, this innovative platform can be used to help students capture their own experiences. The audio can even be shared and archived with the Library of Congress. This presents a unique opportunity for librarians to orchestrate students compiling their own oral histories.

It can be very time-consuming for teachers to find and prepare primary sources for lessons. Now, however, a wealth of sites provide curated sets that have been prepared and vetted by educators, as well as teacher resources and even professional development materials. Stepping into the instructional leader role, the school librarian can work with teachers not only to make them aware of these valuable resources, but also train them on how to utilize these materials for instructional purposes and work together to develop lessons that integrate and promote the inquiry process.



Stripling, Barbara. "Teaching Inquiry with Primary Sources." TPS Quarterly, 2, no. 3 (2009). http://www.loc.gov/teachers/tps/quarterly/inquiry_learning/article.html

About the Authors

Melissa Jacobs, MS, MLS, is the Director of Library Services in the New York City Department of Education. Jacobs received her master's in library sciences and school library media certification from the City University of New York at Queens College and a master's in educational administration from Touro College. She is the founder of the American Association of School Librarian's Best Apps for Teaching and Learning and was recognized as a 2015 Library Journal Mover and Shaker and 2015 Queens College Alumna of the Year. You can follow her on Twitter at @missyji.

Melissa P. Johnston, MEd, PhD, is associate professor at the University of West Georgia, where she teaches graduate courses in the school library media/instructional technology certification program. She earned her master’s degree at the University of Georgia and her doctorate at Florida State University. Johnston is the author of numerous articles in such journals as School Libraries Worldwide, Tech Trends, School Library Research, and Knowledge Quest.

MLA Citation Jacobs, Melissa, and Melissa P. Johnston. "Enacting Leadership. Taking the Lead with Primary Sources." School Library Connection, November 2016, schoollibraryconnection.com/Home/Display/2186195.

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Entry ID: 2046633

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