The confusion about primary vs. secondary sources is one that goes back to
the very early days of American Memory when we did the first user
evaluation. In many cases, what I found when I did field interviews was
that *many* students and also teachers thought the special presentations or
"exhibits" were the primary source collections themselves. Many, many people
had difficulty distinguishing the difference between the two. American
Memory collections that employ both primary and secondary sources provide a
great opportunity to teach research methods, and examining sources is an
integral part of this process. When we wrote the grant application to
Kellogg that initially funded this educational outreach program, we stated
that "raising the visibility of primary sources" was a fundamental goal.
And, it continues to be just as valid today as it was then.
I am convinced that as this corpus of primary source materials grows and as
more and more people have access to it, we will learn "to read" sources more
independently and with more care. The notion of "instant access" in this
electronic world is both good and bad. On the one hand, we have access to
stuff we never had before. On the other hand, because it sometimes seems so
easy, we can get sidetracked from the real issue of synthesis: What does it
At 08:25 AM 10/11/97 -500, you wrote:
>Thanks, Bill, for the thoughtful post on your's and Harlene's project. I
>was particularly interested in your statement:
>>Students have initially found the American Memory site complex to use, but
>>as their familiarity with it grew, it became easier to find material. Some
>>students mistook background statements and overviews of the collections for
>>primary sources themselves, and I corrected them as we went along.
>This fascinates me. I've become very interested in how people read such
>material. What happens when kids read so that they mistake
>overviews/background material for primary sources?
Susan Veccia, Educational Resources Specialist
National Digital Library
Library of Congress
email: [log in to unmask] voice: 202/707-6151 fax: 202/252-3173