Social Studies

Head to Head: The Library of Congress vs. the National Archives

By Catherine A. Cardno — April 22, 2013 2 min read
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What *is* the difference between the Library of Congress and the National Archives?

That’s the question posed by Stephen Wesson from the Library of Congress and Stephanie Greenhut from the National Archives in a blog post that was cross posted to the Teaching with the Library of Congress blog and the National Archives’ Education Updates blog last week. It’s a good question, particularly if you’re stuck for time and scrambling to find online visual resources to illustrate your lesson plans.

While both the Library and the Archives make historical documents available to the public, the Library’s mission is to serve the U.S. Congress, too, and to “acquire, organize, preserve, secure and sustain... a comprehensive record of American history.” The Library of Congress is actually part of the legislative branch of the government.

The National Archives, on the other hand, is responsible for safeguarding and preserving the records of the federal government, “ensuring that the people can discover, use, and learn from this documentary heritage.” The Archives is located within the executive branch.

The collections and holdings of the Library and Archives are a direct result of those missions. The Archives was created in 1934 and is sent every “permanently valuable” record—handwritten documents, maps, film reels, email, etc.—that a federal agency no longer needs to refer to: between 1 and 3 percent of all records created. According to Wesson and Greenhut, that has still added up to more than 10 billion records.

The Library was established much earlier, in 1800, and is the world’s largest collection of knowledge and creativity, according to the pair. It holds items in 460 different languages and receives over 10,000 items a day—including two of every item registered for copyright in the United States, which arrive by a variety of means.

Both the Library and Archives have a wealth of free primary resources, images, and classroom material that teachers can use as they create lesson plans in a variety of topics, as I wrote about previously in a link-heavy piece for Education Week Teacher. So if you want a lesson plan on the history of baseball that meets the Common Core State Standards, the Library has you covered.

And if you want to provide your students with a deeper understanding of the roots of the female suffrage movement in the aftermath of the passage of the 15th Amendment, the Archives has your back.

This post was updated to reflect the fact that the Archives only receives between 1 and 3 percent of all federal documents created.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the BookMarks blog.