Beyond Google Images: Using the DPLA with an English 101 class

By DPLA, November 25, 2013.
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As a librarian, I’m passionate about connecting students with the information they need, whether it takes the form of a peer-reviewed journal article, a dataset, an artifact, or something else entirely. Recently, I worked with an English 101 class here at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro on an assignment that asks students to find and interpret information in a variety of formats. I have a great relationship with the instructor and she brings her classes in for library research workshops every semester. For the past few years, she has scheduled workshops to help students prepare for an essay focused on interpreting images. The assignment asks students to select “a photograph that captures a specific event (current or past) or issue that generates some controversy or media attention…“ In their essay, students employ rhetorical techniques to analyze the photograph and find secondary sources that provide context on the event being depicted.

In previous semesters, I’ve struggled with helping students find photographs for this assignment. The instructor has always asked her students to come to the library workshop with a photograph selected, but typically students have come in with only a general idea of what type of image they want, or they’ve found something online that they can’t trace back to its original source. I’ve often glossed over the image-finding aspects of the assignment and focused instead on helping students search for the secondary sources they need to contextualize their images.

This semester, I worked with a colleague to completely overhaul my lesson plan. In my communication with the instructor in advance of the workshop, she shared some concerns about the image requirement: “One of the things that I’m really trying to get them to focus on is finding a photo that has a clear source and photographer, so that they can consider the audience and know how it was originally used.” She went on to say that she wanted students to find something with a clear sense of origin. In response to her concern, and as a result of my own reflections on helping students in the past, I decided to devote part of the workshop to image selection for the first time since I started supporting this assignment. As luck would have it, this was also the first semester during which the DPLA was available as a resource. I taught one section of this class and a colleague taught another, and we both devoted significant time during the workshop to finding appropriate images and citing them. I created a page on our English 101 research guide specifically for this class:, which includes links to a number of different image resources, including the DPLA.

Because students in this class tend to seek out iconic images, like this one of the “Greensboro Four” leaving the Woolworth Lunch Counter in downtown Greensboro after a sit-in in 1960:, or this photograph of Neil Armstrong on the moon:, they can often find plenty of images by doing a basic Google image search. The difficulty for students in this class is then tracing the image back to its original source for citation, attribution, and effective analysis. Using the DPLA made it easy for me to give students a short lesson on provenance and the value of knowing the origin of any image, especially those depicting major historical events. When students had time to search for images on their own during the workshop, I saw a few searching Google images, but many more searching the other resources I recommended on their research guide, including the DPLA.

From my perspective, this was one of my most successful semesters supporting this assignment. Students appreciated the clean, simple search options offered by the DPLA, but were also happy with the level of detail provided for each image. I saw students using the timeline feature to help them locate images from a particular time period, and I saw others browsing the exhibitions for pictures they found interesting. For the first time, I actually left this class feeling like I had successfully helped students identify images that were easy to find, cite, and contextualize. The DPLA was a big part of that.

As an instruction librarian, I teach students how to find all types of information, but I’m at my most comfortable when I’m working with students using library databases to find articles. Teaching this class to find high quality historical images pushed me outside of my comfort zone as a teacher, and helped me encourage students to step outside of their comfort zone and go beyond Google image searching

Featured image: UNCG Library by wwritter on Flickr [available via a CC BY-NC 2.0 license]

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