Sunday, December 21, 2008


I recently went to the Minnesota Historical Center’s History Day for Librarians Conference. Since we will be hosting History Help Days at the Central Library again this year, I thought I would relate a few things I learned during the session. During these sessions, MHS staff along with SPPL staff will be assisting students with their projects. Due to the limited nature of school libraries, we will also be getting a lot of students in here at other times as well.

The theme this year is “The Individual in History: Actions and Legacies.” They emphasized this is NOT a biography. It often means to take a person at a moment in time when what they did “changed” history, then put that moment into historical context. The example they used was Rosa Parks at the moment when she refused to give up her seat on the bus. Describing the event itself is only part of the process. What brought her to that point? What were the implications of the act? What was its legacy?

Minnesota students and teachers are apparently very, very good at the History Day competition—winning far more than their share of awards at the National History Day competition in Washington, D.C. Bear this in mind when working with students. While some are only doing it to satisfy a class requirement, many are shooting for the big time and may be a little intense.

One thing I learned is that the rules are the rules. The packet I placed in the FYI box has a copy of them. For example, the rules say that displays can only have 500 of the student’s own words. Someone, somewhere (probably a competitor) will count them, and if there are 501, they will be disqualified. Most of the time, this will not be our problem—we are not the judges—but is something to keep in the back of your mind.

Another thing to remember is their definition of “internet sources.” This is a good thing to remember when working with students in general. Teachers often restrict student use of “internet sources.” This, however, does not prevent students from using many of our databases, however. For example, our Historical New York Times is not only NOT an internet source, it is a primary source to boot. This is sometimes confusing for students and it is often helpful to point this out to them.

The last thing they emphasized is that History Day can be FUN, even if you don’t like history (which is inconceivable.) So enjoy.


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