Online Resources from the Library of Congress

By Graves, Judith K.; Parr, Marilyn | Social Education, November-December 2003 | Go to article overview

Online Resources from the Library of Congress


Graves, Judith K., Parr, Marilyn, Social Education


The Library of Congress holds more than 126 million items in hundreds of languages and formats. Over 7 million digitized items from these holdings are available online for users worldwide. These can be found in three major areas within the Library's website.

AMERICAN MEMORY (memory.loc. gov) is an online archive of more than 120 collections important to America's heritage. The collections contain primary source documents, maps, photographs, films, and sound recordings that reflect the collective American memory. This virtual treasure trove of unique personal items (e.g., old records, letters with exquisite penmanship and arcane language, clothing, keepsakes, or sepia photographs) is a snapshot of America's past.

EXHIBITIONS (www.loc.gov/exhibits) are digital versions of exhibits physically on display at the Library. The exhibits vary in subject from American architecture, culture, politics, and historical events to international culture and history, with individual items especially selected as relevant to the exhibit's theme.

GLOBAL GATEWAYS (international.loc. gov/intdlhome.html) builds on the American Memory model by presenting multimedia collections in collaboration with international institutions. With the broad theme of common borders, these bilingual presentations offer maps, documents, photographs, and print materials of parallel exploration and settlement and the meeting of cultures in the Western Hemisphere.

The search process can be complicated. Thus, to aid in using this gold mine of Americana, there are numerous search tools--some obvious (Search the Library of Congress web pages, American Memory Search and Collection Finder) and others not so obvious (Learning Page, Today in History). All have value, depending on the needs, preferred method of searching, and time available.

The Library of Congress Website Search (www.loc.gov)

The homepage of the Library of Congress contains an open box in the upper right corner for searching web pages across the entire site. A search here will retrieve complementary information, but not individual items or bibliographic records within the Library's online databases. For example, a search on Pearl Harbor will retrieve a webcast on oral histories following the December 7, 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor, but will not retrieve all of the digital material about the subject. (For digital items, move to the American Memory Search mentioned below.)

For locating materials in Exhibitions or Global Gateways, go to the respective homepage and use the open search box to search web pages only within that site.

Search American Memory Collections: All Collections (memory.loc.gov/ammem/ mdbquery.html) This searches basic information (caption, date, author, notes, etc.) on most items in the collections. Use this for specific names or subjects (e.g., Benjamin Banneker or Titanic), but NOT for broad topics (e.g., Civil War) or famous people such as George Washington or Abraham Lincoln. Resist the temptation to try this first! For those new to American Memory, go directly to the Learning Page for search tools and tips. For those who must jump in immediately, use the Collection Finder (below) for manageable results.

Collection Finder, American Memory (memory.loc.gov/ammem/collections/ finder.html)

Here the collections are grouped in several ways. Select "List All Collections" to see an alphabetical list of all the collections. Select "Show descriptions" for details about each collection. Use the search box to search all collections or select a grouping and search only those collections within that group. To further narrow a search, use the box on the left of each collection title to uncheck those not relevant to the topic. This will make the search smaller and more specific, and the response time will be faster.

The Learning Page (www.loc.gov/learn)

The main page of the Learning Page has a search box in the upper right corner that searches the website for content of specific interest to educators, such as lesson plans. …

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