Website review by Jenny Bristol, Common Sense Education | Updated February 2021

Library of Congress

Dig into famed library's collection of research goodies

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Based on 13 reviews
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Grades
1–12
Subjects & Skills
Social Studies, Critical Thinking

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Pros: There's a useful resource for nearly any subject you look up, and some include lesson plans.

Cons: Curation is good but not great. Some students who need extra support might find even the teacher-curated resources on the site challenging.

Bottom Line: The Library of Congress delivers the best of America's past and present, and with teacher support it could be a reliable research resource for students.

To get started, bypass the Library Catalog and even the Digital Collections tab and go straight to the Teachers tab. There, you'll find the Classroom Materials link, which has great resources for getting students oriented, including Primary Sources Sets and the accompanying dense but thorough lesson plans. As an intro for younger students, you may want to focus on using the Primary Sources Analysis Tool: a graphic organizer that will help structure students' thinking. For cross-curricular opportunities, check out the Everyday Mysteries link, where there's a deep dive into science facts, or consider integrating one of the many primary sources of great American authors' work into a history unit.

Once students have a good handle on what the site offers, and have built up the skills necessary for primary source analysis, the Library of Congress can be a go-to bookmark for students to kick off any future research project.

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Library of Congress is an online version of the real thing: the world's largest library and all of its resources. There's no login or way to save information; it's just a place to visit and find information in all formats, including text, audio, and video. The homepage features a carousel of collection highlights (some timely) as well as links to the library catalog, digital collections, trending topics, the LOC blog, current exhibitions, and LOC news. Click on any of these, and you'll be taken to engaging content. 

The Teachers tab unlocks the real treasure, though: Primary Source Sets, Classroom Materials, Professional Development links (including a blog just for teachers), Family Engagement Resources (perfect to support distance learning and family involvement), Library of Congress: Engage! (multimedia sets organized by themes), and Free to Use and Reuse Sets (thematic, image-rich sets).

Also notable is the GRAB THE MIC: Tell Your Story! weekly video series with Jason Reynolds, who is the National Ambassador for Young People's Literature. Every week, Reynolds leads his viewers through a Write. Right. Rite. activity, especially suitable for upper elementary and middle school students.

It's the Library of Congress. It's amazing, but allow yourself time to explore the site and pick out some highlights for yourself and your students before introducing it -- even to older students. While it has improved over the years, the site is still not as well curated as some others, and could feel stale or dry to students without appropriate scaffolding. But even so, the vast, digitized collection -- and all of the supporting resources -- are so extraordinary that the sky's the limit. You can see actual manuscripts of unperformed Yiddish plays from the early part of the century, look at a map of the Governorates of Bahrain, watch the National Book Festival webcast, or listen to concerts held at the library. So while the Library of Congress site requires some deft teaching to make sure students see the potential, once they do, they'll have access to resources that can anchor just about any research project or topic.

Overall Rating

Engagement

Student and teachers will find that the resources are high-quality and seemingly endless. That does mean, however, that even advanced or older students will benefit from a teacher-facilitated intro. 

Pedagogy

Incredible depth and variety give students the chance to make discoveries about America's history. The Primary Source Sets support interdisciplinary work and invite students into the world beyond memorized facts. 

Support

Diverse in historical representation and wide-ranging in multimedia content, the Library of Congress truly offers something for everybody. There's good attention to accessible design.


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Featured review by
Amy K. , Classroom teacher
Classroom teacher
Cornell Senior High School
Coraopolis, United States
A wealth of primary sources to explore!
This website contains a wealth of knowledge, but even for experienced users can be hard to navigate. Using already curated primary source sets, or links like Chronicling America, are easy for students. I also print out primary sources for students to use. Their "ask a librarian" button is available for teachers and students who are struggling to navigate the site. Additionally, they have regional partners around the country (generally colleges), that will train teachers to use the site and even print re ...
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