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Archives & Museum Informatics

Integration of Primary Resource Materials into Elementary School Curricula

Nuala A. Bennett, Beth Sandore, Amanda M. Grunden, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, USA, Patricia L. Miller, Illinois Heritage Association, USA


The primary focus of the Digital Cultural Heritage Community Project is the digitization of materials from local area museums, archives and libraries for elementary gradesí social science curricula. Using teachersí curriculum units and the Illinois Learning Standards for direction, primary source materials are identified by curators and librarians for inclusion in a digital repository. The repository metadata must be complex enough to easily integrate the different forms of metadata currently used by each institution, while, at the same time, being simple enough for facilitation by the elementary school users. Simultaneously, a collaborative agreement was developed to include a set of terms and conditions for digital access to collections, the right to distribute materials and permissions to host materials. We have thus far learned that each school districtís interpretation of the state learning standards necessitated additional review of local standards to insure that the project addressed goals and objectives that were pertinent on a local as well as a state level. Curators and librarians have had to be innovative when choosing items to digitize, and teachers must be able to make use of materials in imaginative ways, as it was often apparent that there might not always be a good fit between curriculum needs and the local area museum and library collections. Finally, we are developing a set of guidelines and standards to enable the creation of a consistent database, easily mapping between different controlled vocabularies and organizational data.


Digital technology brings the potential for museums, libraries, and archives to play an integral role in the enhancement of learning by providing access to digitized primary and secondary cultural resources as well as more traditional bibliographic and cultural materials. The Digital Cultural Heritage Community Project (DCHC) ( at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign is an eighteen-month project that commenced April 1999. The primary focus of the DCHC is the digitization of materials from local area museums, archives and libraries with the ultimate goal of enabling early and late elementary grade teachers to integrate digital cultural heritage materials into the social science curricula.

Access to the digitized materials is available from the database on the DCHC Web site. The database is publicly accessible, although its emphasis will likely encourage only those users with an interest in Illinois social science issues. Our main user is likely to be an elementary school teacher who will integrate the information available on the database into his or her classroom activities.


In order for any collaborative project to be successful, there must be extensive cooperation among participants, and it is no different for the DCHC participants. When the DCHC started, collaboration involved several conference telephone calls, and extensive use of a listserv. Observation and analysis of the listserv discussions led us to believe that most participants were often more willing to respond to specific directed questions rather than general discussions. It was subsequently felt that some sort of threaded email package would be more suitable to the project. We believed that the threaded email, by its very nature, would help in the direction of discussions and lead to more specific exchanges, thereby generating more feedback from all participants.

Using OíReilly WebboardTM (, we set up a threaded email discussion board, which overtook the listserv. The Webboard now allows us to follow specific lines of discussion much more closely and enables us to much better understand our shared goals for the project. There are many more levels of communication among participants. Formal and informal messages can be kept apart and allow for better understanding of project-related discussions. Similarly, people who are not interested in a particular discussion now know that they need not follow it as closely as they might another, and the Webboard allows them to distinguish easily between all discussions. It also ensures that decisions about the project need not necessarily be made by consensus among every single project participant, but by those who are following a particular discussion more closely. Figure 1 is a screenshot of the Webboard, where the discussion topics are visible in the left frame, and the details of one discussion are visible in the right frame. Finally, the Webboard also allows us to admit a number of outside advisors to particular discussions while also restricting their access to other topics. This allows us to achieve additional insights and information that can be very helpful to the project.

Figure 1. Webboard, showing discussion of Curriculum Units


In order to fully participate in the DCHC, each partner institution needed to have access to appropriate hardware and software. Schoolteachers and partner institutions were given the choice of receiving an Apple iMac or PC, based on their personal and institutional preferences and familiarity with the two platforms. Teachers tended to select iMacs, while the other partners opted for Dell PCs. Similarly, each partner institution was supplied with a flatbed scanner or a digital camera depending on preferences and existing equipment in their institution. The Digital Imaging and Media Technology Initiative, where the project is based, has large flatbed scanners and a batch processing slide scanner, as well as digital cameras, all of which are also made available to the project partner institutions for imaging.

DCHC staff went to the schools and institutions to set up their equipment, ensure its operability, and provide rudimentary training on the use of the new hardware and software. Email, phone, and regular additional visits to the schools and institutions provide continued equipment support for the participants. A workshop aimed primarily at those who would be doing the most digitizing from the museum, archive and library partners was held on scanner and digitization standards. Participants were introduced to scanner operation and the use of scanning utilities and image manipulation software such as Adobe Photoshop ( They also learned about resolution, color-depth, and quality indices as well as calibration of scanners and monitors for optimal digitization. During the workshop, decisions regarding the number and quality of digitized images were discussed and it was agreed that the DCHC would follow the general guidelines for digitization as presented by the Library of Congress (Fleischauer, 2000) and using the Cornell University digitization formulae (Kenney & Chapman, 1996). This workshop helped to ensure that all partners would be able to produce quality consistent images that would be usable in the final database.

Curriculum Units

The participant teachers in the DCHC teach 3rd, 4th, and 5th grades in East Central Illinois schools. They initially made available to all project participants their lesson plans and curriculum units for social science. There were no restrictions on the number or arrangement of curriculum units, which each teacher would submit. Accordingly, there is much variation in the type and organization of the combined units.

As well as submitting their curriculum units, the teachers included information about which of the Illinois State Board of Education Learning Standards for Social Science ( were covered within each particular unit. Although the individual school districts can also develop their own specific learning objectives, they all must conform to the broadly stated goals in the state standards. The current Illinois State Board of Education Learning Standards were adopted in 1997. The Learning Standards are statements that define a core of essential knowledge and skills that all Illinois students enrolled in public schools, elementary through high school, are expected to know and be able to do. They are useful in many aspects such as setting uniform expectations of all students, easing the transition of students who move from school to school, and also providing a foundation for defining the knowledge and skills that teachers need in order to provide instruction for students.

Initially, it was proposed that the teachers would submit their curriculum units appropriate to the Illinois Social Science Learning Goals 14-16, and then later submit the units for Learning Goals 17-18. However, we found that the teachers were submitting units, many of which covered several Learning Goals from 14-18, and the distinction between the earlier goals and the later goals has now largely been ignored. We have six detailed curriculum units for 3rd graders, four units for 4th graders, and four units for 5th graders, covering areas of social science such as "How we learn about communities" (3rd grade) or "French in Illinois" (4th grade).

Combined with the curriculum units and the corresponding Learning Goals, the teachers also suggested examples of primary source materials that they might find useful in teaching each particular unit. These materials were chosen by the teachers based on their experience of teaching the units over the past several years and their experiences of what items would be most helpful to the students.

Selection of Materials

Based on their subsequent reading and understanding of the curriculum units, social science learning goals and desired primary source materials, the museum curators, archivists and librarians delved into their collections to search for examples of the types of materials that they believed the teachers would find most useful if digitized for inclusion in a digital repository. There followed much collaborative discussion between the teachers, curators, archivists and librarians to achieve optimal content selection for the digital repository. Final content selection was determined through this detailed and continuous review process where the teachers together discussed the benefits of using particular museum or library images for the curriculum units.

It was at this point that we realized how restrictive working with local area museums and libraries can be for specific subject fields, such as social science. Local area museums tend to obviously have collections that contain many items specific to a local region. Although the teachers at elementary grade levels often teach local interests, or how national topics might relate to local issues, their main coverage in the social sciences tends to more national topics. Thus, it would often happen that a teacher would initially like to see a digitized image of a particularly national artifact, but might have to make do with something that was much more local in nature. As well as the constraints of geography in local museums and libraries, there is a constraint of time periods as well. In particular, in Central Illinois, museums and libraries tend towards collections from the 19th and 20th centuries. As a result, topics such as the Prehistoric Indians can be difficult to cover.

Consequently, the museum curators and librarians had to be particularly innovative in choosing items from their collections. They had to choose items, which would be of use to the teachers in class. More importantly, they had to be innovative in convincing teachers of the use of particular items from their collections. In one case, a librarian suggested that a teacher might find herbals useful, whereas the teacher had never previously thought of such an artifact (for a unit on Native Americans): The librarian explained that "[t]hese are early printed books, from the 1400's, 1500's, to the present, with woodcut drawings of various herbal plants. These books were used by healing practitioners to make herbal remedies. Obviously, the Indians were the source for some of this invaluable information in the herbals written in later centuries". The teacherís response was "I have never heard of herbals! I think it might be interesting to see what the writing and woodcuts look like. We were just talking about shamans today in [4th grade] class, and discussing how the willow bark used by Indians has the same compound in it as aspirin".

Accessibility to Materials

While discussing the proposed content of the database, the participants simultaneously determined the steps necessary to make the content available to teachers and students, and to create the digital repository that will be accessible through the project Web site. In order to create an integrated system usable by each participant institution, several issues are of major concern, particularly the metadata that would be used for the database of images.


Firstly, the metadata must be complex enough to easily integrate the different forms of metadata currently used by each participant museum or library. There was a great range of metadata formats in use among the participant institutions. The museum community uses Nomenclature for Museum Cataloging (Blackaby,1995), as well as also using tools such as the Art and Architecture Thesaurus ( The library participants, on the other hand, mostly use references for Library of Congress name and subject headings and would have little or no experience of museum methods. The first metadata issue of concern was ensuring that each museum and library would be willing and able to merge its existing content and metadata with the multiple other sources.

The metadata must, at the same time, be simple enough to be easily understood by the participant elementary school teachers and their students. We found that elementary school teachers did not easily understand the concept of metadata, yet they were able to discuss the metadata fields quite easily. Similarly, the museum curators and librarians had different ideas about metadata, so we arranged a workshop where the project participants came together and learned about metadata from a basic standpoint to ensure that everybody had at least some basic knowledge of the issues involved. The metadata workshop closed with the participants agreeing that the museums, libraries and archives would continue examining and utilizing the various digital file formats for access and archival purposes, metadata (indexing and description) formats, and thesauri that are used across the professions.

Following the metadata workshop, lively Webboard discussions followed. Issues that were considered included OCLCís Cooperative Online Resource Catalog (CORC) ( and Dublin Core (, both of which had been used extensively during the metadata workshop, as well as EAD ( and the creation of dynamically delivered HTML and Microsoft Active Server Pages (MS-ASP) ( using MS-Access or AltaMira Pressís PastPerfect ( as a database source.

CORC claims to be "a state of the art, Web based system that helps libraries provide well-guided access to Web resources using new, automated tools and library cooperation. It is a system of automated tools that can be used for the creation, selection, organization, and maintenance of web-based resources". CORC was originally restricted to about 100 libraries, but since January 2000, it has been made available to all libraries. Although the DCHC participants spent some time testing CORC, it was found to be unsuitable at the time for this particular project because of the learning curve, which would have been involved for the participants and also, the version of Dublin Core utilized in CORC was not extensible enough to accommodate our needs. EAD was similarly dismissed for this project, on account of the amount of time it takes to train all participants and become totally familiar with its complexity. Discussions with several people in the EAD community led us to believe, given the combined experience and knowledge of our project participants, that it would take too long for everybody to become sufficiently knowledgeable about EAD to use it comfortably.

Dublin Core, on the other hand, given its simple adaptability would be much easier for everybody to handle. During the metadata discussions, it was agreed that DC would be the metadata format that would be used, and we then set about finalizing the actual DC fields and field descriptions for the DCHC. Dublin Core is a set of fifteen elements, or fields that are intended for facilitation of electronic resources. DC has several characteristics that made it ideal for the DCHC. In particular, its simplicity enabled us to ensure that all project participants had a grasp of the issues quickly and without too much difficulty. Its semantic interoperability also made it a prime candidate among the project users at several different museums and libraries, the focus of which can be very diverse collections. Finally, its extensibility also allowed us to provide a set of metadata elements that covered the many varieties of project participant institution. In order to ensure uniformity of metadata, we designed a database using the following set of fields, as closely related to DC field names as possible, that we felt would cover as much of the information as possible coming from the partner institutions.

  • File Name / Format refers to the file type for the image about to be entered into the database. Three versions of each image are submitted by each museum ñ tiff, jpeg, and a thumbnail image.
  • Resource Type is the nature, category, or genre of the resource, and for the DCHC, it is likely to be one of five types - Text, Image, Sound, Service, or Event.
  • Title is the name given to the resource by the creator or publisher - its known title, or object name. The DCHC allows for an image to have several titles.
  • Date refers to the date associated with the creation or availability of the image, i.e. the date an artifact is scanned or photographed.
  • Coverage is used to describe the date or period of the resource's intellectual content, referring to the range of time the artifact, object, or document covers.
  • Subject and Keyword would typically refer to the topic of the resource, such as keywords or phrases that describe the subject content of the resource, or terms related to significant associations of people, places, and events, theme, index terms, descriptors, controlled vocabulary terms or other contextual information.
  • This is the most complex field, having several parts:

    • Description is a textual, narrative description of the resource content, such as abstracts for documents or content characterizations in the case of visual resources.
    • Interpretation is a textual, narrative interpretation of the artifact.
    • Learning Goals refers to the Illinois state learning goals that the teachers included in their Curriculum Units.
    • Curriculum Units are those originally provided by the teachers, and for which a particular image or artifact might be important.

  • Author or Creator is used for the person(s) or organization(s) primarily responsible for creating the intellectual content of the original resource, for example, the author of written documents, artist, photographer, illustrator or the collector of natural specimens or artifacts.
  • Other Contributor would then be used for the person(s) or organization(s) in addition to those specified in the Author field making significant intellectual contributions to the original resource but whose contribution is secondary to any person(s) or organization(s) specified in the Author field, such as an editor, transcriber, translator or illustrator.
  • Resource Identifier refers to the text or numbers used to uniquely identify the resource, for example, the name of the museum/library holding the item. All of the partners felt that this field would be particularly important to enable distinction between items from their own collections and items from other partner collections. Similarly, the teachers wanted this information should they decide to make a field trip to a specific local museum.
  • Rights Management is the field where a statement concerning accessibility, reproduction of images, restrictions, rights management, usage, copyright holder, security permissions for use of images, Conditions of Use, etc. might be included. Although the DCHC Web site includes a Conditions of Use statement, this field is for rights for a particular image.
  • Publisher relates to the person or organization responsible for making the image available, such as the repository, archive, museum, library, or university.
  • Source is used for information about an original resource from which the present resource is directly derived, e.g. name of a parent resource.
  • Relation is used to describe the relationship of a secondary resource to the present resource, using linkages, such as "IsFormatOf", "IsVersionOf". Alternatively, it might be used to describe the relationship of this resource to a second resource in database, plus the identifier of the second resource. This element permits links between related resources and is also a particularly important field as it is used to signify that something is a part of something else, such as pages in a document. It allows for connections between two or more images in the database.
  • Language covers the language of the intellectual content of the resource - the language(s) in which a text is written or the spoken language(s) of an audio or video resource.

Figure 2 shows the interface for adding data into the digital repository. These database field descriptions gave brief details, but in the case of the actual DCHC database, there are considerably longer descriptions for each field to assist the partners in entering the appropriate information. Each field has a link to a detailed description of the field and the data that might be entered therein. A pop-up window will open with the long description as soon as a person clicks on the field name. Similarly, each participant institution was also issued with several copies of a handout with combined detailed field descriptions.

Figure 2. Database entry screen

Database Design

The actual database was designed, with the fields described above, using MS-Access 2000. Although several of the participant museums use PastPerfect for their own local database, MS-Access was chosen in preference to PastPerfect because it allowed greater flexibility in the creation of unique fields and in building queries and relationships that would be necessary for the types of searches and compilation of database statistics that the project wished to produce. Also, as the database grows, MS Access would allow easy transfer to a more robust database such as MS-SQL.

MS-ASP was also chosen because of its cross platform capabilities and ability to integrate well with either MS-Access or SQL should the database need to expand in the future. ASP, as a server-side technology, affords greater speed and simplicity for the end user than other scripting languages and is cross-browser compatible. This allows greater access to the database by users of a variety of Web browsing software, which is important given the variation in location and ability of project participants. Additionally, the servers behind the backbone of the DCHC were already able to support ASP development without further modification or installation of proprietary server software.

Integration into Classroom Activity

Primary source materials can assist the teacher in enhancing the curriculum. It is well-known that the use of primary source materials, as well as helping to alleviate boredom in classroom settings, can also help to advance students to higher-level thinking and it can offer experience of collecting, organizing, interpreting, and weighing the significance of factual evidence to achieve a systematic analysis of primary source documents. Students can compare and contrast evidence from different sources and try to identify factual information and separate it from opinion, and make justifiable inferences and conclusions (Otten,1998), (West, 1996).

The teachers who are participating in the DCHC have the opportunity only once or twice a year to visit a museum or library with their students. Being able to access the DCHC database now allows the teachers and students to view materials held in many more local area museums and libraries that they might not otherwise see during the year. They have much more material at their fingertips, and teachers are able to enrich the curriculum by effectively using the images in the database during the course of their teaching a particular curriculum unit.

In parallel with on-line discussions about the content and metadata for the database, we also held a number of workshops to ensure that all project participants had sufficient knowledge and skills to participate actively in all discussions, and more importantly, to make use of the database of images and associated metadata in their classroom settings. The first workshop on material culture, "Integrating Primary Resources into Teaching", proved very helpful to all participants. Through hands-on activities, project participants learned valuable methods for using primary sources to enhance the social studies curriculum using images of authentic artifacts, documents, and photographs. In particular, the elementary schoolchildren of Illinois can liven up certain topics such as "Government in Illinois" by accessing images of items such as judgesí robes that were used in famous court cases, or ballot boxes that were used in elections in times gone by. Another advantage of each workshop was that it gave participants a chance to meet face-to-face. Communication was facilitated and improved after each meeting among participants.


Intellectual property issues involved in the digitization of images, which are of major concern to the DCHC partners, include the right to distribute materials, permissions to host materials, content that could possibly be offensive to some users, institutional ownership, and conditions of use. Museums and libraries together developed a set of terms and conditions for digital access to their collections.

This agreement ensures that there are no misunderstandings among partners either during the course of the project, or after it is officially completed. Museums, libraries and archives participating in the project agreed to provide selected images and accompanying information in digitized form. The agreement sets out in writing how to make the digitized images, descriptive text and other media available to participating institutions in formats agreed upon by all the participating institutions and it confirms how works are selected for inclusion in the project on the basis of a process agreed upon by the participating institutions. The agreement also covers copyright issues, such as whose responsibility it is to obtain permissions to digitize objects, and confirms that the images and their accompanying metadata remain the intellectual property of the contributing partner.

As well as the collaborative agreement for each partner institution, a "Conditions of Use" statement for the project Web site was also created. In this case, the statement was created for the protection of the project participants and the database users.


At this point in the project, our interactions have yielded several significant discoveries that may be of interest to other similar endeavors.

Local vs. State

The teachers who are participating in the DCHC work in three different school districts. Each of those school districts has created its own unique interpretation of the Illinois Learning Standards. The standards of one school district made every effort to conform to the state standards and there was little or no difference. In the case of the second school district, the district learning standards were designed to actually reflect what is covered in the classroom, and the teachers believe that the state learning standards are not as comprehensive, and are only later matched up with what is taught. The third district was in the process of revamping its local standards and relied more heavily on the state standards.

While considering the state learning goals alongside the curriculum units, it was also necessary to constantly review the local standards for each district to insure that the project addressed goals and objectives that were pertinent on a local as well as a state level. In most cases, the local standards did allow for the museum curators and librarians to find more innovative artifacts for the students, and enabled broadening the scope of the search for items to include in the database.


Secondly, as teachers made their curriculum units available, it became clear that there might not always be a good fit between curriculum needs and the local area museum and library collections. In order to get over this stumbling block, the curators and librarians must be more innovative when choosing items to digitize. In turn, teachers must be willing and able to make use of materials with their students in more imaginative ways. One example where this happened was a unit on "Communities and Geography", which a teacher used to cover items such as rice-growing in China. None of the local area museums or libraries had anything that remotely covered this industry in another part of the world. However, one of the libraries did have an ox-yoke that was carved by Lincoln. While the ox-yoke is of course important in the teaching about Lincoln, it was also useful for the teacher to show an implement to the children that might be used for rice-growing carried out in another land.


Finally, we had to develop a set of guidelines and standards for the museums and libraries to enable the creation of a consistent database, easily mapping between different controlled vocabularies and organizational data. Much discussion took place about the type of database and metadata, which would be used for the images.

It was particularly important that we developed a consistent set of guidelines for every partner institution entering data into the database. The fields in the database were based on the Dublin Core fields, but due to the nature of the partners and their collections, some adjustment of the original fifteen DC fields had to take place. Almost none of the participants had worked with DC before their involvement in this project, so it was imperative that very specific guidelines were set out for all participants to enable their entering data into the database without any difficulty and with complete consistency.

The DCHC is now halfway through its anticipated lifespan. We plan to carry out more research into how the teachers actually use the database images in their curriculum. We would like to look at innovative ways in which teachers may further develop their curriculum units using the database images which the museums and libraries have made available to them. We need to carry out extensive evaluation studies to ascertain how much use the database is actually receiving from our local users as well as users from outside our immediate locality. We are already closely monitoring use of the project Web site, but need to analyze what users are actually doing at the Web site and how they are using the database. We also have set up an Advisory Group of eight experts from various fields and regularly avail of their advice as to how we might improve upon the DCHC and perhaps expand it further for the future.


Blackaby, James R., The revised nomenclature for museum cataloging: a revised and expanded version of Robert G. Chenall's system for classifying man-made objects. AltaMira Press, 1995.

Fleischhauer, Carl, Digital Formats for Content Reproductions, Library of Congress. Last updated July 13, 1998, Consulted February 4, 2000.

Kenney, Anne R, Stephen Chapman, Digital Imaging for Libraries and Archives, Cornell University, June 1996.

Otten, Evelyn Holt, Using Primary Sources in the Primary Grades. ERIC Digest, Office of Educational Research and Improvement, Washington, DC, 1998-05-00.

West, Jean M., Ed. The Immigrant Experience, 1840-1890. Volume I. Teaching with Primary Sources Series. Cobblestone Publishing Company, NH, 1996.


This work is sponsored by the Institute of Museum and Library Services under its National Leadership Grant Program.