The Importance of Primary Source Literacy

Written by Sarah Calise, Archivist

Every year on September 8th, UNESCO celebrates International Literacy Day. This year’s conference in Paris focuses on the necessary skills to navigate literacy in a digital world. The rapid change and growth of the Internet has made it harder, not easier, to find quality information, which is why it is important for people to know how to efficiently find sources and evaluate their accuracy.

primary-source-blog

An archives user researches original drafts of Albert Gore, Sr.’s World War II radio broadcasts housed at the Gore Center.

Archives and libraries are huge supporters of teaching information and primary source literacy, which is the ability to identify, locate, evaluate, synthesize, and present evidence and data. The Society of American Archivists (SAA) and the Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL) recently published  “Guidelines for Primary Source Literacy.” These guidelines cover what primary sources are and how valuable it is to know how to use them:

Primary sources are materials in a variety of formats that serve as original evidence documenting a time period, an event, a work, people, or ideas. Primary source literacy is the combination of knowledge, skills, and abilities necessary to effectively find, interpret, evaluate, and ethically use primary sources within specific disciplinary contexts, in order to create new knowledge or to revise existing understandings.

The Albert Gore Research Center is filled with primary sources related to political and social movements, women’s history, Tennessee history, and Middle Tennessee State University history. Our primary sources come in all kinds of formats, too: correspondence, organizational records, government documents, diaries, photographs, born-digital files, objects, and more! Our goal, as archivists and information professionals, is to help you find the primary sources you need to do all sorts of projects, like: connect with the past experiences of your family and culture, research and analyze aspects of American history, be conscious of the historical context for current public policies and legislation, and gain a better understanding of your own identity and place in the world. Take a closer look at some of the primary sources in our collections (click images to view larger):

Primary source and information literacy is important for everyone, not just academics and scholars. These skills allow you to you recognize unreliable or biased news stories that come across your Facebook news feed. They help you figure out how government agencies and politicians are trying to persuade you toward certain ideas. They aid in the problem-solving and critical thinking for every day issues. Having expertise in a subject is good, but an even greater asset is knowing how to find knowledge not already in your possession. Learning how to learn is at the core of literacy. Ultimately, primary source and information literacy makes you a more enlightened and active citizen.

Happy International Literacy Day! Come into the Gore Center and we’ll help you get started!

Other Important Links for Primary Source and Information Literacy:

  1. MTSU’s Teaching With Primary Sources
  2. Gore Center Lesson Plans
  3. Information Literacy Project
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