Programming with Library of Congress Digital Collections : Arts
This guide is designed to help all types of libraries explore primary sources available from the Library of Congress online collection, and to connect with their communities through programming and educational opportunities.
Sheet music can also be a primary source, and the Library of Congress has a vast collection of annotated sheet music. The information and activities on this tab of the guide focus on the Library's Sheet Music of the Musical Theater Collection.
SEARCH TIP: The Sheet Music of Musical Theater Collection is massive. You can search for specific topics or keywords in a song by going to the Collection and then making sure "In this Collection" is selected from the pulldown menu at the top of the screen so that your keyword search will provide results from The Sheet Music of the Musical Theater.
Sheet Music of the Musical Theater
Sheet Music of the Musical Theater includes over 16,000 pieces of primary source sheet music from between 1880 and 1922. The sheet music in this collection is from musicals, revues, and operettas. During this time period, the illustrations and designs on the sheet music were often works of art. The lyrics can also be entertaining.
Eyes of Blue, (1921) by Dailey Paskman, Frank Capie, and Will Weissberg, [notated music].
Today, many conductors and performers use an electronic device to display their sheet music for a rehearsal or performance. Prior to this, physical copies of sheet music were required, and, before recordings of songs were made, sheet music was one of the only ways that people could learn a particular song.
The sheet music often had beautiful, elaborate covers that, today, provide a glimpse into the history and culture of the time period.
Browse through the Sheet Music of the Musical Theater Collection, paying close attention to the covers of the sheet music. Then, design a sheet music cover. (You can do this without having any background in music or theater.)
How would you have designed the cover for a song from the collection?
Or, design a piece of sheet music for your favorite song (classic or contemporary). Think about what the song is about and what time period it is from. What image would best represent that?
Design a piece of sheet music for an event or activity that you enjoy. For example, here is a 1918 piece of sheet music for "The Circus is Coming to Town" by Irving Berlin. What do you think of when you hear the title of the song? For what event or activity would you want to write a song? What would you put on the cover of your sheet music?
Browse through the collection or do a keyword search for a topic that interests you. Find a cover of sheet music that intrigues you. Using only the cover and without looking at the lyrics on the interior pages, write the lyrics for that piece of sheet music. After you have written your lyrics, go back and read the lyrics from the original sheet music. Are you the next Stephen Sondheim?! Or Jeanine Tesori?!
Can you find an announcement about the performance? A review? What kind of publicity did the performance have? If you found a review, what did the critics think? Based on the song lyrics, what do you think?
Example: This is a piece of sheet music for "Walking the Dog" from The Passing Show of 1916.
Walking the Dog, (1916) by Otto Motzan and Harold Atteridge from The Passing Show of 1916, [notated music].
The December 3, 1916 edition of The Washington Herald has a headline that "Woman Dominates Programs at Leading Local Theaters: 'Passing Show of 1916'and 'Cousin Lucy' Force Male Entertainers from Spotlight."
If you are looking for older sheet music, the Library has a digital collection of 10th-16th Century Liturgical Chants. The collection includes primary source sheet music that includes single leaves as well as entire books of music. These primary sources can be used to show the history of written music in the western world from diverse regions throughout Europe.
Host a film night at the library! You can incorporate primary sources from motion picture history. Prior to showing a current or recent film, show some of these first films. It will get patrons thinking about how much film has changed over time.
"There is color! There is sound! They are long!"
You could also create an entire program focusing on Magic Lanterns/Magic Lantern Slides* and then have your patrons make their own lantern slides (by cutting up a sheet protector). You can host a "nickelodeon" night and project patron lantern slides, using a flashlight as the patron tells the story of what is happening.
image: Hand drawn lantern slides by a 4th grade student (top) and a 2nd grade student (bottom) from a library class about magic lanterns and early films as storytelling.
Then show some of these early films from the LOC collection to show how storytelling has changed over time.
*Magic lanterns were a type of projector that was developed in the 17th century and that became popular in the 19th century for storytelling. Magic lanterns used painted glass slides that had multiple images on each slide. As the slide was moved through the projector, the sequential pictures told a story.
The idea for a library program or class featuring magic lantern slides came from a post on the Library of Congress' TPS Teachers' Network. To view the link, you will have to register for the TPS Network, but it is free...and there are lots of great programming ideas on the Network. The TPS Network is a social media network for teachers, librarians, and anyone who is interested in history and primary sources. It is a great resource to find primary sources and lesson plans/programming ideas.
A picture book biography of filmmaker Alice Guy-Blaché who made some of the first moving pictures and was one of the first to use films to tell stories. She also experimented with new camera angles and techniques. (Some of her early films are on Youtube and can be paired with the book for programming.) (Grades K-5).
The Swann Collection of Caricature and Cartoon contains over 2,000 drawings, caricatures, and comic strips from 1890 to 1970. Of course, these can all be considered art, but they are also another form of storytelling and can provide information about historic events and public sentiments at a particular time in history.
For a library program, select some of the comic strips and display them on different tables or hung in different areas around the library. Have patrons go on a "gallery walk" to observe the primary sources. Patrons can think about:
How have comic strips changed?
Do you see some of the same characters?
What can you learn about the time period or culture from the comic strip?
Patrons can then create their own comic strip about whatever topic they choose.
If you can, invite a comic book creator to lead a workshop for patrons.
As sequential art, comic strips are part of the history of modern-day graphic novels and manga, so libraries can use this as part of a Comic Con or to showcase graphic novel/manga titles.
Note: Several of the primary source comic strips in the Swann Collection are only fully accessible at the Library of Congress.
Rights and Access: The Library of Congress does not own the rights or copyright to the material in the Swann Collection and cannot grant or deny permission to publish or distribute the materials. It is up to the user to assess copyright or other use restrictions and obtain permission for use, as necessary.
Statement on Potentially Harmful Content and Fair Use
Statement on Potentially Harmful Content
Some of the materials presented in this guide may reflect outdated, biased, offensive, and possibly violent views and opinions. In addition, some of the materials may relate to violent or graphic events and are preserved by the Library of Congress and presented here for their historical significance.
Digitized primary sources in the Library's collection each include a "Rights and Access" or "Rights Advisory" statement within the catalog information. These can help users determine whether the item is in the public domain or whether there are copyright restrictions. For more information about the Library of Congress' policy on Copyrights and Primary Sources visit the website.