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Lesson Plan: Gratia Countryman

For Teachers - An Introduction:
This lesson is designed to introduce your students to historical research with primary sources. They will be presented with a set of six primary sources relating to a person in Minnesota history. Your students will be provided with source data, online activity questions to direct their study, and a worksheet designed to help them draw conclusions about the sources they have seen and about primary source research itself. The sections of this site are not intended to be complete histories of the people or events involved, but examples of what students might find in their own research attempts.

Who was Gratia Countryman?
Gratia Countryman was the head librarian for the Minneapolis Public Library system in the early 1900s. She implemented a mobile library system and encouraged the growth of library use in the area.

What You Will Need for This Lesson:

  • Access to a computer lab with Internet capability for at least one 40 minute class period.
  • Photocopies of the worksheet and a printed key (download both in the Student Materials section of the site).
  • If you have not already done so, we encourage you to explore the site for yourself ahead of time to become familiar with the navigation and features available to you and your students.

Skills Objectives:
The student will be able to:

  1. access primary sources online for research and study
  2. identify and summarize the different kinds of sources in the exercise
  3. identify advantages and disadvantages to using particular primary sources
  4. explain and synthesize source information to evaluate its usefulness and reliability

Using this Lesson in Your Classroom:
When the students are in the computer lab, instruct them to do the following in this order (you may wish to do this with them on an overhead projector screen):

  1. Go to the Communities web site.
  2. Click on Communities on the left hand side of the screen.
  3. Click on St. Anthony.
  4. Click on Gratia Countryman.
  5. Read the introductory material on Gratia Countryman and click Enter.
  6. This will bring you to a screen with a photograph of Countryman. This is the first primary source the students will encounter. Let them know that they can see a larger version of this photograph by clicking on the View button underneath the thumbnail image. Show students the Activity button and have them click on it to view questions an possible answers about each source.
  7. Once students have studied this photograph and read the appropriate questions about it in the Activity section, direct them to the other sources that are accessible through the blue menu bar running across the top of the page. Each of these buttons will take them to another source to explore.
  8. Remind students to use the Activity button on each source to help direct their research.
  9. When the students have completed studying each source and reading the questions for each item, they should be able to complete the worksheet they were given (see below).

What Your Students Will See In This Lesson Online:
What follows is a listing of each source provided on the Gratia Countryman section of the web site and a transcript of the Activity questions for each source (these are found on the site by clicking on the Activity button).

Art 1
Click on the Art 1 button to open the primary source.

As head librarian for the Minneapolis Public Library, Countryman worked to bring reading and literacy to the area by using a mobile library system and establishing reading rooms in buildings close to where people lived and worked.

News 1

Click on the News 1 button to open the primary source.
This is an article from the Community Bookshelf.

    2.1) What problem does the "eager little woman" in the article have?

    Possible Answer: She would like to take out books from the Minneapolis library but lives in Richfield, and only people who live or work in the city can borrow books.

    2.2) What reason does that article give for why only citizens of Minneapolis can take books from the library?

    Possible Answer: The library was created and supported using tax dollars only from citizens of Minneapolis.

    2.3) Why might the woman want books for her children?

    Possible Answer: They could use them for learning or for enjoyment. Consider what kids did and didn't have in the year 1923 to entertain themselves.

    2.4) Why doesn't the "little woman" just go to the Richfield library?

    Possible Answer: In 1923 Richfield was mostly farmland and did not have a large enough population to justify having a library yet. The Minneapolis library may have been her only option.

News 2
Click on the News 2 button to open the primary source.
This is an article from the Minneapolis Tribune.

    3.1) What are some of the advantages of being able to transport library materials by using a truck?

    Possible Answer: Books could be brought to places outside the city, where people might not easily be able to make a trip to the city library.

    3.2) What are some disadvantages of getting your books from a library truck?

    Possible Answer: A truck cannot hold as many books as a building, so a truck would have fewer books to choose from. Also, you would have to wait until the library truck was able to come to you instead of getting books whenever you wanted.

    3.3) How did the library try to solve these problems?

    Possible Answer: The truck driver would take books to local bookshelves, where people could check out books when they wanted them. The library would even try to send any book that was asked for.

    3.4) What difference could getting books make in the lives of people who normally didn't get to read as much?

    Possible Answer: Books can be both entertaining and educational. In addition to enjoying them, people would have a chance to learn more than they might have without books.

News 3
Click on the News 3 button to open the primary source.
This is an obituary notice from the Minneapolis Tribune.

    4.1) What is the reason this article was written?

    Possible Answer: It is an obituary notice, announcing Countryman's death and highlighting the important events of her life.

    4.2) About what year was Gratia Countryman born ?

    Possible Answer: The article doesn't say when Countryman was born, but since she was 87 when she died in 1953, she must have been born in either 1865 or 1866, around the end of the Civil War.

    4.3) What did Countryman mean when she made the comment about not being the century of Abraham Lincoln?

    Possible Answer: She meant that, unlike the story about Lincoln, people were not willing to travel long distances to visit a library.

    4.4) What in the article would be an example of how she brought the library to the people?

    Possible Answer: The article says that twelve branch libraries were established while she was head of the library.

Photo 1
Click on the Photo 1 button to open the primary source.
This is a photograph of a reading room organized by Gratia Countryman in St. Anthony.

    5.1) What technology shown in this photograph might help you identify its time period?

    Possible Answer: The electric lights tell us that the time shown is after 1912.

    5.2) What can the hats in this photograph tell us about men at this time?

    Possible Answer: It appears that most of the men in the photograph wore hats into the building, but all of the men have removed them while inside. This can show us that hats were popular articles of clothing for men and we could assume that it was considered rude to wear the hats indoors.

    5.3) What kinds of materials do you see the men reading?

    Possible Answer: They are reading what appear to be books and newspapers.

    5.4) How is this reading room different from your local public library?

    Possible Answer: There are no large shelves of books in the reading room, and libraries today often include computers or card catalogs to help readers locate books. This room does not seem to have either of those features.

Data 1
Click on the Data 1 button to open the primary source.
This is a graph from The Spatial Evolution of the Minneapolis Public Library.

    6.1) What is the difference between the number of book distribution points from the time Gratia Countryman became head librarian in 1904 and when she retired in 1936?

    Possible Answer: The number of distribution points tripled, from around 50 to around 150.

    6.2) According to the graph, did the number of distribution points continue to grow during the time Ms. Countryman was head librarian?

    Possible Answer: No, for some reason the number fell just before 1920, then started to grow again.

    6.3) What types of places were considered book distribution points?

    Possible Answer: Distribution points included branches, or branch libraries; stations, or community bookshelves supported by the library truck; libraries in school classrooms; and house libraries or reading rooms in local businesses.

    6.4) Were the most common users of the public library system mostly wealthy?

    Possible Answer: The most common users of the libraries were not the wealthy. The wealthy could afford to buy books for their own libraries in their homes.

Thought Questions for online Exploration:
During the online lesson, your students should complete the accompanying worksheet for this section. (Download from the student materials the pdf file containing the worksheet and key.) The questions for this worksheet are provided below. Since questions relating to specific sources are used during the online activity, the following worksheet questions are designed to help students synthesize and apply the material they have learned from the online activity and to analyze the kinds of information and the credibility of various types of primary sources when taken as a whole.

  1. Often historians try to determine what the impact of a person they are studying may have been on the community where that that person lived. The sources we provided here about Gratia Countryman can tell part of her story. What other sources might help us learn more about her and what she did in Minneapolis?

  2. One of the sources we provided was a graph showing the growth in distribution points for the library system between 1889 and 1977. As historians, can we give all of the credit for that growth to one person, Gratia Countryman? What other influences might have contributed to that level of growth? What other sources might give us more information about why the libraries expanded during that time?

  3. Newspaper articles can often tell us much about a person and their activities. The article about the book truck shows us that Countryman was involved in this project. Can we assume from the article and the picture that she was the only person in the library system who worked with the book truck? If we were to use only this one source for our research about Gratia Countryman, what mistakes might we make in describing her life? What aspects of her life might be completely left out of our research?

  4. People who work on family histories (genealogies) often use obituaries as one of their sources. What kind of information might you learn from Countryman's obituary if you were a relative who wanted to know more about her? What other people or sources might that obituary point you to for further family research? What would you do if information in an obituary didn't "match up" with (contradicted) other information you had gathered? How would you go about deciding which information was correct?

Extending the Lesson: Historical Themes in Gratia Countryman
You can also use the sources provided on this site to encourage higher-order thinking about a number of historical themes and issues that relate to Countryman's life. Below are possible activities/discussion starters to extend student application of the content material provided in the sources. The information provided in the sources about Gratia Countryman does not give us a comprehensive picture of these issues, but it can serve as an introduction to a theme or as supplementary material to enhance your work with a theme that is already part of your curriculum.

Possible Themes:
1. Literacy
2. Community leadership

Theme One:

The student will be able to:

  1. define literacy and its impact on their community
  2. explain and evaluate the role of libraries in promoting literacy
  3. describe what life might be like without books or reading material
Class Discussion:
Break the class into small groups for discussion of the following questions. You may wish to present these to the class in worksheet form so that they can take notes as they discuss. Gather the class when they are finished and ask each group to share their answers.

  • List all of the instances you can think of in a school day that require being able to read or use a book. How would your life be different if you could not read at all? What would be made more difficult? What mistakes could you make that might even be dangerous for you?mistakes could you make that might even be dangerous for you?

  • What can be done to help adults or children who cannot read or who have trouble reading? List as many possibilities as you can.

  • Describe the role that the school or public library plays in your life. What have you been able to learn from books that were loaned to you? How would preparing a report for class be made more difficult if you did not have a school or public library to use?

  • How do you think the Internet could affect the use of libraries in your community? What are the advantages and disadvantages to each resource? How can you use each of them most effectively?
Optional activities:
  • Have students interview a local librarian about how libraries have changed over the years. What has the use of new technologies such as the Internet done to help libraries be more effective? Have students report to the class.

  • Assign students in pairs or groups to read to local elementary students. Allow the students themselves to choose an appropriate book for the age level of their listeners. Ask them to list skills that are important in reading aloud to younger children (speak slowly and clearly, show the pictures, be expressive, etc.). Have students practice their books with each other before going to the elementary classes.

  • Have students draw posters to promote literacy in their community and post them in local store windows and around the school. Grocery stores will sometimes let students draw pictures on grocery bags as a promotional activity. Ask the local newspaper to interview a couple of your students about why they think literacy is important.

  • For one day (or a set period of time of your choosing), take down everything in your room that involves reading -- all books, posters, etc. Ask students to do a lesson using no books or other reference sources that require reading. Discuss how books and reading are often taken for granted today, but that they were rare in some earlier periods in our history. How would people have managed at their jobs or in their homes without being able to read, or, if they could read, without having access to books? List activities for which people regularly use books or instruction manuals (remodeling a house, fixing a car, cooking, learning rules to a sport). How could they do that same activity if they didn't have access to written materials or a teacher who could explain it to them?

  • Create your own in-class book club. Have students bring a book from home that they enjoy and give a promotional review (like a mini-commercial) of it to the class. Allow other students to "check out" these books from their classmates as they would in a library.

Theme Two:
Community Leadership:

The student will be able to:

  1. define and identify community leaders
  2. discuss and evaluate the role of leaders in their community
  3. discuss and evaluate traits that are necessary in their community leaders
Class Discussion:
Break the class into small groups for discussion of the following questions. You may wish to present these to the class in worksheet form so that they can take notes as they discuss. Gather the class when they are finished and ask each group to share their answers.

  • Ask students to imagine their community with no form of government or leadership. What would be done and not done in their community? What areas of community life would be affected? How might this affect their daily life?

  • Discuss the role of leaders in your school. How does having student leaders help with the planning of school events, communication between the students and administration, and general efficiency of the school itself?

  • Have students make a list on the board of what qualities are important in a leader. What traits do they seek when deciding whom to vote for student office? What makes a good leader? What should a leader do and not do if they are to be respected? What things can people who would like to be leaders do to develop these traits?

Optional activities:

  • Use the list of leadership qualities the class produced on the board and have the class hold a mock election. Choose people to run for office and have them prepare short campaign slogans and mini-speeches to describe why they would be good leaders. Have the class evaluate how each candidate's leadership qualities would help them in office.

  • Take the class list of leadership qualities and have students evaluate current governmental or world leaders for these same qualities. How do current leaders measure up? How can we tell for sure that our opinion or interpretation of their qualities is correct? What effects can it have on a country or community when a leader does not have those qualities? What other factors might influence why we would or would not support a leader? Have students interview their parents or family members about which qualities they look for when voting.

  • Ask students to interview a community leader (you may wish to have them do this in teams). This could be a local pastor, office holder, head of the local library, or long-time resident who has made a big impact on the community in a positive way. Students should ask the leaders what they think the important issues in their community are and report back to the class on their findings. What are these leaders doing to help others in the community and what made them decide to pursue their current role in the community?

  • Have students discuss current community or school projects to which they could contribute. Organize a class project (could be extra credit) in which students would help out the community by collecting food for the food shelf, visiting a nursing home, picking up litter around the school, organizing a book drive, delivering meals on wheels, etc. You could also have students make posters encouraging others to become leaders in their community and help with current projects or environmental concerns.

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