LOC preps expanded digital learning center

The Library of Congress today officially will open a remodeled learning center to be used primarily to train teachers how to use the library's digitized historical collections posted on the World Wide Web.

Renovations made to the National Digital Library Learning Center, formerly the Digital Library Visitors' Center, were funded with a $250,000 gift from Microsoft Corp., said Bob Zich, director of electronic programs at LOC.

Microsoft presented LOC with the donation 10 months ago to expand the center, located on the lower level of the library, and upgrade its software, Zich said. The renovations include an upgraded online multimedia theater that seats 50, a stage outfitted with eight computers and a large display screen, a classroom that seats 17, a video teleconferencing center, six public workstations with Internet access and office areas for a staff of six.

"Now with the space downstairs, we can offer short courses for more teachers," Zich said.

Audrey Waters, a spokeswoman for Microsoft, said the donation will enable the National Digital Library Learning Center to increase public awareness of the library's technology resources in addition to serving as a hub for instructing teachers on how to present electronic information to students in the classroom.

"This project is to help teachers help the students," Waters said. "Our donation isn't usual. It's pretty consistent with what Microsoft has done in the past."

Since 1994 teachers who were members of the American Memory Fellows Institute have been brought to the old visitors center for online demonstrations of the library's Internet resources.

The institute was restricted to training 50 teachers a year because the room in a Washington, D.C., hotel where the institute held training sessions was too expensive and relatively small, Zich said. The new center, however, will allow LOC to offer more training sessions with smaller groups of teachers, Zich said. The training sessions cater to teachers who are technology-savvy, but the program also is used to help persuade teachers who prefer textbooks instead of the World Wide Web to consider using the Internet in the classroom, Zich said.

"We want schools to rely less on textbooks and more on the original documents," Zich said. "Some teachers are new to the experience."

Susan Veccia, manager of the educational outreach program at LOC, said the institute is popular among teachers and will be offered next summer at the new center if Congress funds it. She said teachers are selected and recommended by an independent selection board.

"My staff work[s] with the teachers to help them...to fuse the electronic resources into their curriculum,'' Veccia said. "We have materials to help them understand the Internet.''

LOC is a leading provider of primary historical content on the Internet through its American Memory Historical Collections, a project that is part of the library's National Digital Library Program, which can be accessed at memory.loc.gov.

American Memory is dedicated to digitizing and preserving information that has unique value to American history. The site stores more than 44 online collections that include digitized documents, manuscripts, films, photographs, sound recordings and maps. The collections are available to the general public.

Through the American Memory Web site, the digital library program provides Internet users Web access to 2 million multimedia digital files, including Civil War-related materials, the papers of U.S. presidents and documents relating to women's suffrage and the civil rights movement.

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