School Librarians as Citizen Archivists

Image by David Mark from Pixabay

As a librarian, records, research, and historical events fascinate me. I also enjoy tagging information that I find, write, or include in articles, blog posts, or tweets. It would come as no surprise that when I attended a session given by librarians at the National Archives during a recent conference, I was enthralled by two amazing ideas that were shared: Citizen Archivists and DocsTeach.

The National Archives

The National Archives and Records Administration, known as the National Archives, is an agency of the United States government. They are charged with preserving and documenting government and historical records. In addition to just preserving and storing records, the National Archives is also working to increase access to government records for the public.

The National Archives was founded in 1934 by Franklin D. Roosevelt and is headquartered in College Park, Maryland. Despite being founded in the 1930s, the archival records date back to 1775.  Most of us are aware that the National Archives house important documents such as the Declaration of Independence and our country’s Constitution and the Bill of Rights. It also houses records that are not nearly as famous, but just as important, such as the military records of men and women who served in our armed forces, naturalization records of immigrants to the United States, and much more.

The National Archives offers many services. There are archives located in 17 states, there are federal records centers, and the National Archives publishes a daily record called the Federal Register of government proclamations, orders, and regulations.

Citizen Archivists

As I mentioned in the opening paragraph of this blog another service provided by the National Archives is that of the ability for anyone to become a “Citizen Archivist.” As a librarian, this idea truly excites me and triggered a desire to create an account on the National Archives site and become an amateur archivist. The banner on the archives site reads “One day all our records will be online. You can help make it happen.”

Getting started is easy. You simply have to create an account. It’s free. The National Archives allows you to tag images or you can participate in a “mission.” The missions are collections of documents that are grouped that all fall into the same category. One of the missions currently available to work on is Project Chariot, which was a plan to use nuclear blasts to help create a harbor at Cape Thompson, Alaska. I find this fascinating as just the thought of using nuclear blasts to create a harbor seems like perhaps it was not the best idea. There is another mission where citizen archivists can transcribe speeches, statements, and addresses given by Franklin D. Roosevelt. Perhaps that doesn’t interest you? You can transcribe correspondence related to the Iditarod National Historic Trail or tag details in photographs of 150 roads located throughout the United States that are designated as scenic byways.

Not only will being a citizen archivist appeal to you as a school librarian, but think about how amazing it would be for students to have an opportunity to take a close-up, firsthand look at the historical documents of the United States and have the opportunity to participate in the transcription and tagging of these documents!


But wait…that’s not all! Not only does the National Archives offer the opportunity to become a citizen archivist, but they also have a plethora of amazing resources for school librarians and teachers at all levels. At the top of the National Archives page is a tab labeled “Educator Resources.” Once clicked, school librarians can enter what the archives calls DocsTeach. This is a robust resource that will assist librarians and teachers in finding primary resources that can be used to teach. Librarians and teachers can create an account and save any of the ready-made lessons or create their own easily.

To make this amazing resource even easier for librarians and teachers to utilize the archives has bundled topics. Topics Include:

Clicking into any of these gives a wealth of primary source documents as well as teaching activities to go along with them.

My mind immediately jumps to National History Day projects, research in social studies classes, creating document-based questions for social studies and historical research. These documents can be used in so many other ways, such as creating timelines, teaching students about primary sources, and observing photographs and drawing conclusions.

Finally, the archives offers online exhibits as well. Students can take a virtual field trip through a host of documents that tell the rich history of the United States.

Want to know more? Visit the National Archives site. They offer videos, webinars, and more to get you acquainted with their site. The National Archives is a natural fit as a teaching tool in school libraries and classrooms. And, if you are at all like me and enjoy tagging, research, and documentation: becoming a citizen archivist is a must!


Author: Jennifer Sturge

Jennifer Sturge is a Specialist for School Libraries and Digital Learning for Calvert County Public Schools. She has been an educator and librarian for 28 years and is always looking forward. She is a member of ALA and AASL,was the 2020-2021 President of the Maryland Association of School Librarians for 2020-2021, a 2017-2018 Lilead Fellow, and Chair of the AASL Supervisor’s Section of AASL..

Categories: Blog Topics, Collection Development, Community/Teacher Collaboration, Student Engagement/ Teaching Models

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