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Tip of the Week: New York Public Library Digital Collection

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Finding primary sources and evidence to use as part of the teaching and learning process can be a massive timesuck.

Back in the day, all we had was whatever showed up with the textbook supplementals. If we were lucky, we might have access to some semi-realistic jackdaw collections. And because the pool was so shallow, there were usually two outcomes. You found something you could use almost immediately or you didn’t find anything at all.

But now with so many digital options available, having too many resources can sometimes be just as bad as not having enough. It can be difficult knowing where to start and how to search for what you need. Which resources can help me find what I need?

Of course, there are the no-brainers. The Library of Congress. The National Archives. Gilder Lehrman. Internet History Sourcebook Project. Chronicling America. My list of primary documents. Using these will solve most of your problems – especially the ancient / world history stuff at the Sourcebook site.

But it’s always nice to have a few fallback sites bookmarked so that you don’t spend all afternoon doing Google searches for the stuff you need.

Today’s tip? A fallback site you need to put into your primary source toolkit.

The New York Public Library.

Yup. The NYPL Digital Collection contains 675,000 items and counting. And it spans a wide range of historical eras, geography, and media. You can find drawings, illuminated manuscripts, maps, photographs, posters, prints, rare illustrated books, videos, audio, and more. It’s easy to find and download stuff you need. Check out their search and downloading tips here.

The easy to use keyword search provides the opportunity to narrow your search in a variety of ways that can quickly help you find what you need. I especially like the option to limit the search by date.

nypl digital collection

One of my favorite tools on the NYPL site is something called the Map Warper. The NYPL Map Warper is a tool for digitally aligning historical maps from the NYPL’s collections to match today’s precise maps. You can browse already aligned maps or assist the NYPL by aligning a map. Play the video below to tour the site and learn how to align a map yourself.

Other favs?

  • Think of the things you and your kids might be able to do with the NYPL collection of restaurant menus.  Economics. Eating habits. Changes in imported goods. Rationing during WWI and WWII. differences in regional / cultural geography. They also have a fun What’s on the Menu section.
  • They have 22 versions of the Green Book. I’ve talked about the Green Book before. The Green Book was an attempt to help African American travelers find places to stay, places to eat, places to buy gas, and shop while driving throughout the United States during the era of Jim Crow. Victor Green, a Harlem letter carrier, began collecting information about New York City metro area businesses welcoming to African Americans visiting the city and eventually went nationwide with his list.
  • There are huge digital collections from the Great Depression including photographs from the Farm Security Administration and prints from the Works Progress Administration.
  • There is a very interesting collection called the Pageant of America. It includes a series of thematic topics of US history from foundation to modern America.
  • And, of course, there is a sweet set of map collections. Cause you can never have too many maps.

With each item that you find, you get a bundle of helpful tools to print, download, share, cite, and use in a variety of ways.

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Use the NYPL Digital Collection to make your life easier by speeding up your primary source search and making your kids smarter.

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