When Cindy Rich joined the faculty of EIU’s Department of Early Childhood, Elementary, and Middle Level Education in 1995, she knew she was enlisting with an education program of high quality and impeccable reputation. What she couldn’t have known, however, was the vastly different way she’d be training educators as her tenure at Eastern neared the two-decade mark.
Dr. Rich oversees the university’s Teaching with Primary Sources initiative, something she has done for 10 years now. The program, which was initially meant to last just a year and a half, is a grant-funded cooperation with the government in which colleges and other educational organizations “deliver professional development programs that help teachers use the Library of Congress's rich reservoir of digitized primary source materials to design challenging, high-quality instruction.”
Essentially, Rich spends most of her time traveling around the region and state to not only make elementary/high school teachers and other educators aware of the LOC's TPS website and its resources, but also work closely with them regarding the best practices for utilizing those resources in a classroom setting. These resources, which now number higher than 38 million, could be anything from documents to images to videos to audio recordings, all of it pulled from the LOC’s holdings.
Rich readily admits that while her current enthusiasm for the program couldn’t be higher, she had some reservations in the program’s early days.
“My first thought was: ‘Do I really want to work in the summer?,’” remembers Rich. “I’ve been working every summer since then; that’s my busiest time, because teachers are on break then. “
Twenty-nine universities across the country currently participate in TPS; Illinois senator Dick Durbin is a staunch supporter, so it’s probably no coincidence 11 of them are in this state.
“When it first started, we were actually part of an education consortium out of Asheville, N.C.,” said Rich. “The Library of Congress didn’t even oversee the whole thing. But in 2007, the Library of Congress was very pleased with how the project was going; they took it, and now we report directly to the Library of Congress Education Outreach staff.
“They have their staff in house, but they can only reach so many people. They can reach people online, but they understand that for educators face-to-face interaction is important. This gives them faces all over the country, and each of our programs can reach hundreds of educators every year.”
Obviously, the program – and the people like Rich charged with implementing it – have been a great success. There’s no other explanation for a 1 ½-year experiment to end up lasting a decade. Rich says her role as an educator of educators has definitely evolved as TPS has continued growing.
“My first workshops were literally: ‘This is the Library of Congress website. This is this. This is here,’” said Rich. “We’ve gone from just introducing the site and all the cool things that are there for you to now really helping teachers incorporate it into curriculum. Don’t just use a map for decoration, but use it with your students and teach with it. It doesn’t have to be a prop. It can be an actual teaching tool in the hands of the student.”
One way Rich has grown TPS locally is with Eastern’s web space, setting up a TPS site as sort of a starting point for those who use it.
“We’ve grouped some things teachers have found really helpful,” explained Rich. “They’re not coming here for one-stop lesson plans, but hopefully more for inspiration to go to the Library of Congress and find more cool things.
“It has gone from teachers in the area to teachers all over the country and world having us bookmarked for resources. It always blows my mind when I see the biggest states coming to our website are California or Texas; they’re using our site as a gateway to the Library of Congress, and that’s what it’s for.”
So while Rich never intended to be doing what she’s doing, she can only hope it continues for the forseeable future.
“It’s the coolest job ever,” said Rich. “It’s just one of those things – I just thank my lucky stars I fell into it the way I did. I didn’t even know things like this existed, and it’s been so fun.”