Libraries Are the Place to Be

Celebrate National Library Week by discovering all that your local library and the Library of Congress have to offer.

By Cathy Neushul


Students and teacher reading in the library

There are those of us who get a thrill from going to the local library. The idea of having access to rows and rows of books; all of them free, is too good to be true. Not everyone, however, taps into this community pleasure. As part of National Library Week, April 14th-20th, teachers can help their pupils discover some of the resources and services that these local institutions have to offer.

Inside the Local Library

Before you talk about the importance of the public library system, you should first find out what your students know about this institution. Have your class make a list of all the resources and services available at the library. Here are some items that their list should include:

  • Printed books (both nonfiction and fiction)
  • Reference books
  • Books on audiotape
  • Digital eBooks
  • Videos
  • Maps
  • Primary sources
  • Newspapers
  • Magazines
  • Computers with Internet access

Next, take your class on a virtual tour of your local library’s offerings by visiting their website. As times change, libraries adapt. The card catalogue is a thing of the past. There are now a myriad of ways to make finding what you are looking for at the library quick and easy. Show your pupils how to use the library’s online system to look up a book by using the author, title, or subject. Once they have located the book, they can find out if it is available, and even have the library hold the book for pickup. For those who prefer to read eBooks, show your class the area of the library's website devoted to digital books.

Both on the website and in the library, students can find lists of recommended books for all different purposes. There are lists of sci-fi books, best sellers, detective novels, book club favorites and much more.

Talk About History

Discover the history of your local library. This could prove to be an interesting investigation. Either you or your pupils could contact representatives from your local library to see when and how the library was built. In many cases, there was a particular individual who was instrumental in getting the library built and stocked.

Another way to talk about the history of public libraries is by talking about one of the most impressive ones, the Library of Congress. It was established in 1800 as part of a bill signed by President John Adams moving the seat of government from Philadelphia to Washington. In the legislation, there was a requirement that there be a reference library for Congress. Five thousand dollars was allotted for the contents of the library, which was housed in the Capitol Building. When the British invaded Washington in 1814, the troops burned down the Capitol and the library burned with it.

Luckily, Thomas Jefferson stepped in and offered his personal library as a replacement for the lost collection. He had a comprehensive collection of books relating to science, literature, philosophy and foreign languages. While there was controversy over the subject matter of some of the books, the collection was eventually accepted. According to the Library of Congress website, “The Jeffersonian concept of universality, the belief that all subjects are important to the American legislature, is the philosophy and rationale behind the comprehensive collecting policies of today’s Library of Congress.”

For a taste of what the Library of Congress has to offer, visit their website. It is pretty amazing. If you want to see a digital image of a letter written by George Washington, not a problem; it’s there. Entice your pupils to visit the site by letting them know that the Library of Congress was featured in an episode of Modern Marvels due to the incredible wonders found within its walls. Some of these marvels are a collection of Stradivarius and Guarneri violins, Mozart’s original music, a map used by Lewis and Clark, and manuscripts written by the founding fathers.

Have Your Students Share Their Views

After discussing what the library has to offer, have your pupils write persuasive essays detailing the importance of this institution. In order to prepare their essays, learners should research the local library, its budget, and the challenges it may face. By the end of this exploration, your class should have a better understanding of the importance of their local library.

National Library Week Lessons:

Thomas Jefferson’s Library: Making the Case for a National Library

Pupils read a persuasive letter written by Thomas Jefferson discussing why his collection of books should be accepted into the Library of Congress. This is a great way to delve into a discussion of National Library Week. Who could be a better spokesperson than Thomas Jefferson?

 Creating a Primary Source Archive: All History is Local

The libraries are an important resource for primary sources. Young scholars discuss some of the resources found at the library. They identify sources of information about national, state, local, and personal history.

Libraries Go Digital

If you want to discuss the history of libraries, use this resource. Pupils can discuss libraries in Greece, the Dewey Decimal System, and much more. It is a great way to provide an overview of this topic.


Throughout history there have been individuals who have been instrumental in establishing local libraries. This resource delves into Andrew Carnegie's influence on the library system.