An Extraordinary Experience at the Library of Congress

Tom Bober

Tom Bober

Meet Tom Bober, an elementary librarian at R.M. Captain Elementary School in Clayton, Missouri, a small city bordering St. Louis. Tom returned to his school library this fall after serving as one of the two Teachers-in-Residence at the Library of Congress during 2015-2016. The Teacher-in-Residence program began in 2000 as a way to help teachers incorporate the library’s digital primary source collections into instruction (Library of Congress). In his October 2015 KQ blog post, he provided AASL members with a first-hand report of his initial experiences as an Audio Visual Teacher-in-Residence. Over the course of nine months, Tom produced many note-worthy blogs based on his involvement with the Library of Congress digital primary source collections, and you can read a sampling here.

I met Tom during the ALA Conference in Orlando in June and wondered how his year at the Library of Congress will impact his future work as a school librarian. I asked Tom to reflect on his experiences. His comments appear in blue.

dewita-image_4778085676_7608a18f36_nQ: How would you describe your year as a Teacher-in-Residence at the Library of Congress?

Tom’s enthusiasm for his experience as a Teacher-in-Residence is evident when he described it as “my ultimate opportunity to grow as a professional. I was able to take one area of my work with students—their use of primary sources in learning—and dive deeper into it than I ever thought possible. That also led me to learn more about librarianship, beyond what I had known of school libraries, and to meet incredible librarians, historians, educators, and many others, who were passionate about their job and were also interested in the perspective that I brought to the Library of Congress. I was able to contribute in a completely different way, and there is nothing that motivates me more as a professional than being in an environment where I can contribute and feeling valued while doing so” (Bober 2016).

Q: From among your many experiences as an Audio Visual Teacher-in-Residence, discuss the activity or personal learning opportunity that will have the greatest influence and impact on your practice as an elementary librarian.

As I explored the vast holdings—both online and in person—and had rich discussions about the items, the history surrounding them, and their use with students, I began formulating many new ideas about how these resources could be used with students. I blogged about many of those ideas in the Teaching with Primary Sources blog, and others are scribbled in a notebook or typed up in a document. I’m looking forward to taking those teaching ideas, bringing them to fruition, and reflecting on them. My elementary students were already doing incredible learning through their investigation and analysis of primary sources. I’m excited to see what is next in their learning.

henk_sijgers-image_14400554300_74a4c55a8a_nQ: What information do you want school librarians to know about the digital primary source collections at the Library of Congress?

  • “First, everything doesn’t live under one roof. When you go to the Library of Congress website, you see a main search bar, similar to what you would see in Google, and, understandably, one thinks, “I can search everything the Library of Congress has digitally from here.” That’s not the case.
  • While the lion’s share of resources can be found by searching the main Library of Congress website, there are other collaborative collections that are searched separately and should not to be missed. Here are my two of my favorites:

uconnlibrariesmagic_3386956345_72241d3cdd_nQ: Be a cheerleader for the Library of Congress’s resources and describe three that should not be missed. 

  • Even the Teachers Page, one small part of the Library of Congress website, can be overwhelming. Here are a few areas that I find key to supporting my work with students:
    • Primary Source Analysis Tool and accompanying Teacher’s Guides: They are the cornerstone of my students analyzing primary sources and altered how I approach using a primary source to further learning.
    • Teaching with the Library of Congress Blog: It regularly gives me wonderful ideas that I can incorporate into my own teaching, whether it is a resource or collection of sources I wasn’t aware of or a strategy that made me think of a new approach I could use in my library. (Note: You can subscribe to receive notifications of the blog by email or RSS feed.)
    • Primary Source Sets: Consisting of collections of 12-18 primary sources on different topics of study, each is accompanied by a teacher’s guide with historical background and suggestions for teachers using the sources with students. I worked on several of these last year and know the amount of time and effort that goes into making them useful primary sources for students and teachers.

Q: Prior to being a Teacher-In-Residence, what was your experience with the Library of Congress?

Two years earlier I attended a week-long Summer Teacher Institute at the Library of Congress. It was the best professional development experience that I ever had. While not a requirement for applying for the Teacher-in-Residence (TIR) program, many past TIR’s have attended a Summer Teacher Institute. Information about next summer’s applications for the Summer Teacher Institute usually comes out in late January or early February.

If Tom’s experiences have inspired and motivated you to apply for the Teacher-In-Residence program, applications are typically announced in an online press release in February and due in late March or early April (Potter).


Library of Congress. “Library of Congress Selects Two 2015-2016 Teachers-in Residence.” September 22, 2015. (accessed September 7, 2016).

Lee Ann Potter, email to author, September 20, 2016.

Tom Bober, email to author September 17, 2016.

Image Sources:

Bober, Tom. Personal Photo. Used with permission.

Sijgers, Henk. Library of Congress. June 30, 2014. Used under Creative Commons Attribution Noncommercial License.

Soeharjono, Dewita. Library of Congress, Washington DC. Used under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License.

UConnLibrariesMagic. 1852. Map of the County of New Haven, Connecticut. Used under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial License.



Author: Helen Adams

A former school librarian in Wisconsin, Helen Adams is an online senior lecturer for Antioch University-Seattle in the areas of intellectual freedom, privacy, library ethics, and copyright. A member of the AASL Knowledge Quest Advisory Board, the ALA Intellectual Freedom Committee, and a KQ blogger, she is the author of Protecting Intellectual Freedom and Privacy in Your School Library (Libraries Unlimited, 2013) and contributor to The Many Faces of School Library Leadership (2nd edition, Libraries Unlimited, 2017). Email:

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