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Programming with Library of Congress Digital Collections : Literature

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.

Primary Sources for Literature

Literature is how we artistically express ourselves through language and writing.

Literature takes the form of poetry, prose, drama, memoirs, etc. In academic context, literature often refers to the published research of a field. For example in history, there is a body of literature related to Abraham Lincoln or in medicine there is a body of literature related to cancer.

The Library of Congress has a wide variety of primary sources related to the field of literature. The plays of Zora Neale Hurston, writings of Walt Whitman, Native American Poets, and children's books are all represented across the collections. 


Highlighted Collection Title Goes Here

The Rare Books Selections collection contains some of what the Library of Congress considers the most interesting and important items in the Rare Books and Special Collections Division. Items in the digitized collection include the Gutenberg Bible, medieval manuscripts, cooking books, children's literature, medicine, and many other topics. The selections span multiple countries and languages with the oldest item being a digitized manuscript, Exposicio Mistica Super Exod[um], in Latin, published around 1150 in Germany. The collection covers over a 1000 years of printed literature and documents changes in writing and publishing styles. From early, handwritten and hand illustrated manuscripts to the printing press.

Collection Highlights

title page of Beatrix Potter's The Tale of Benjamin Bunny with an illustration of a rabbit in a suit smoking a pipe

The Tale of Benjamin Bunny

Title page of The Tale of Benjamin Bunny by Beatrix Potter. Published by Frederick Warne & Co. in 1904. The Library of Congress received two copies on September 30, 1904 and registered a copyright entry for the title on July 27, 1904. 

page from book

The Book of the Cat: With Facsimiles of Drawings in Colour

Page from the book, The Book of the Cat: With Facsimiles of Drawings in Colour with illustrations by Elisabeth F. Bonsall and stories and verses by Mabel Humphreys. Published by Frederick A. Stokes and Company Publishers in October 1903. The Library of Congress received two copies on November 2, 1903 and copyright was registered on October 22, 1903.

page from 1862 edition of A Visit from Saint Nicholas

A Visit From Saint Nicholas

Page from A Visit From Saint Nicholas by Clement Clarke Moore and illustrated by Felix O. C. Darley. Nathaniel Orr was the engraver for the text. An engraver carved out templates from wood or metal that could be soaked in ink and pressed on paper as part of the printing process. This edition of A Visit From Saint Nicholas was published by the firm James G. Gregory in 1862.

page from a hand written and illustrated edition of Songs of Innocence and of Experience by William Blake

Songs of Innocence and of Experience, Shewing the Two Contrary States of the Human Soul

The poem "The Tyger," by William Blake. It is in Songs of Innocence and of Experience, Shewing the Two Contrary States of the Human Soul, which was published and written by William Blake in 1794. Blake hand colored the illustrations. 

Programming Ideas

DIY Printing or Create Your Own Title Page

Engraved Printing plate of Walt Whitman's portrait

Discuss the history of printing and/or have a hand's on do-it-yourself printing exercise. For the early part of the program use materials from the Rare Books Selections to talk about the early methods of printing such as Illuminated Manuscripts, Wood Block Printing, Engraving Printing, the Gutenberg Press, etc.. Discussion can also cover how the Gutenberg Press and further modern printing techniques made reading materials more accessible and affordable. 

For a DIY program use rubber stamps to mimic the effect of wood block or engraving printing. You can then use an ink and roller, or other impressionable surface to "roll print" on paper. An alternative would be to combine rubber stamps and stencils to handwrite or illustrate a title page for your book. For example: "Walt's Book" by Walt Whitman and then add a design to it. 

image: "Walt Whitman - original steel engraving 1860 leaves of grass." 1860. Photograph of Printing Plate. The Library of Congress.

Comparing Almanacks/Almanacs

Cover page of Poor Richard's Almanack from 1758

For this program outline what an Almanack (almanac) is and how it is typically used. Utilizing one of the Almanacks in the Rare Books Selections collection look at the type of data that is included and see if you can find any documentation online to compare that actual data on that date. As an alternative, compare an almanack in the Rare Books  Selections to a copy of The Old Farmer's Almanac published in the last twenty years. What information in the almanacks is similar, what is different? 

Weather fun: Using the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Climate Data Online tool, compare weather data in The Old Farmer's Almanac to the actual weather data for a specific time period. Have participants determine if the almanac accurately predicted the weather.  The same exercise could be conducted to compare sunrise and sunset data.

image: Poor Richard: An Almanack, for the Year of Christ, (1758), Benjamin Franklin.


newspaper page of list of titles bought by the The Barre Washington public library in 1919         

                  newspaper clipping of advertisement for A New Beatrix Potter Book


There are several options for programs related to literature and Chronicling America.

  • look up advertising for books and compare costs of books to modern prices, then check the cost against inflation
    • For example, a collection of Beatrix Potter tales was $.60 in 1922, a modern collection is $12.00. If you adjust for inflation, the 1922 copy would cost $10.29 today.
  • look for book reviews of famous titles
  • look for mentions of author appearances or talks
  • many libraries used to publish their new titles in the paper, see if you can find your local public library or one from your community



1. "The following books have been added to the shelves of the Washington public library in 1919," published in The Barre Daily Times, September 6, 1919 on page six.

2. "Some Beautiful News Examples of Illustrated Children's Books," published in The New York Herald, October 15, 1922 on page 38.

Related Collections

Map of North America showing Indian Tribes around 1890

Living Nations, Living Words is the signature project of Poet Laureate Joy Harjo. It contains audio recording of 47 contemporary Native American poets reading and providing commentary on an original poem. The aim of the project is to show through poetry that Native people have strong roots in the United States. 

Programming ideas for the collection include the following:

  1. reading the poem, then listening to the poet read the poem and discussing the participants reactions to the two different versions.
  2. listening to the poem and discussing the meaning of the poem as a group, then listening to the poet's commentary on the poem and discussing if there is a change in how the group perceives the meaning of the poem or the intent/emotions behind it.
  3. listening to the poem and discussing what components make a poem, then have the group try to write their own poem. 
  4. utilizing the poem and commentary as a way to discuss Native American history

image: "Map of North America showing Indian Tribes." c. 1890  Discovery and Exploration Digital Collection, the Library of Congress. 

Rights and Access: The Library of Congress asks that when utilizing this collection approach the materials in it with respect for the culture and sensibilities of the people whose lives, ideas, and creativity are documented here. Users are also reminded that privacy and publicity rights may pertain to certain uses of this material.

 The Library of Congress has obtained permissions to use the items in the Living Nations, Living Words digital collection for educational and research purposes. The copyright remains with the creator and it is up to the user to assess copyright or other use restrictions and obtain use permission when necessary. 


Type written copy of Walt Whitman's poem O Captain, My Captain with handwritten corrections

The Library of Congress has two digital collections containing the papers of Walt Whitman. The Walt Whitman Papers in the Charles E. Feinberg Collection and Walt Whitman Papers (Miscellaneous Manuscript Collection). Both collections contain letters, manuscripts, articles, essays, poems and other memorabilia. Programs from the collection could include analyzing diaries entries against poems or looking up articles about Whitman in Chronicling America

image: "Walt Whitman Papers: Literary file; Poetry; O Captain! My Captain! printed copy with corrections, 1888" by Walt Whitman, in the Walt Whitman Papers (Miscellaneous Manuscript Collection).

The Children's Book Selections collection contain materials published in the United States and England prior to 1924 and are in the public domain. These books includes classics and less well-known children's literature. Programs could include comparing illustrations in children's books from different eras, and different editions of titles such as The Wizard of Oz, Beatrix Potter, and Mother Goose.

Little Red Riding Hood book cover

Red Riding Hood (1863) by Lydia L.A. Very and published by L. Prang & Co. of Boston, Ma.


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. 

Fair Use

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.