Former librarian touts primary sources

BUCKHANNON — West Virginia Wesleyan College’s former head librarian spent years encouraging students to check out all sorts of books and other digital, historical resources.

But on Tuesday, she urged members of the Buckhannon Rotary Club to check out primary sources.

Paula McGrew, recently retired director of library services at Wesleyan’s Annie Merner Pfeiffer Library, discussed her recent five-day trip to the U.S. Library of Congress in Washington, D.C., along with the difference between primary and secondary sources at the club’s regular meeting. From a pool of 300 applicants, McGrew was selected to partake in the Library of Congress’ Teaching with Primary Sources Summer Teacher Institute during the last week of June.

“For a librarian to spend five full days in the Library of Congress is just very exciting,” McGrew said. During the five-day conference, McGrew collaborated with library education specialists and subject matter experts to learn about utilizing primary sources in teaching. She also had the chance to browse millions of digitized historical artifacts, she said.

McGrew said primary sources are created “by people who were there at the time and either wrote or drew or painted or something.”

“They were produced by the people who were actually there and witnessed things,” McGrew said. “It might be an audio of someone singing … it might be pictures, it might be objects like the Rosetta Stone, it might be statistics because they don’t change. The Census of 1910 is still the same numbers in 2017.”

Other examples of primary sources include memoirs, images (she showed a crayon drawing by a child depicting Sept. 11) and objects, such as clothing, pottery, letters and diaries.

“They’re (primary sources) really good because they help students to really think about things and ask questions because you can sit there and tell someone something, but until they do it (research) for themselves and start asking questions, they don’t learn as well.”

In contrast to primary sources, secondary sources are those that were created after the fact about an event, time period or condition by someone who did not actually experience that event, time period or condition.

McGrew left Rotary members with a list of places primary sources can be found, including the Library of Congress,; National Archives,; the New York Public Library Digital Collections,; Primary Source,; and World Digital Library,

McGrew also encouraged Rotarians to explore the following resources, which are available at Wesleyan’s library: American Civil War letters and diaries, Digital Library of Appalachia, Mountain People, North American women’s letters and diaries, New York Times online access and more.

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