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Monday, December 13, 2010

Library of Congress

I haven't been there, but I caught a program (Modern Marvels - The Real National Treasure on History Channel) about it and was really fascinated. It has to be the most beautiful library in the world....and if you love books like I do - this was pretty cool.

The Library of Congress is the nation's oldest federal cultural institution and serves as the research arm of Congress. It is also the largest library in the world, with millions of books, recordings, photographs, maps and manuscripts in its collections.

The Library's mission is to make its resources available and useful to the Congress and the American people and to sustain and preserve a universal collection of knowledge and creativity for future generations.

There are several sections or departments of the LOC - even the copyright registration office - but the Library Services department's mission is to develop qualitatively the Library's universal collections, which document the history and further the creativity of the American people and which record and contribute to the advancement of civilization and knowledge throughout the world, and to acquire, organize, provide access to, maintain, secure, and preserve these collections.

Preserving knowledge and creativity for our future generations! Document the history, advancement of civilization and knowledge throughout the world and preserve the collection. What a tall order to fill.

I think the part of the story that captured my attention the most was how the initial collection was housed in the Capitol building in D.C. until the British in 1812 set that on fire. Thomas Jefferson came to the rescue and donated his personal library (50 years of book collecting) of 6487 books! I found that astonishing. The Jefferson books have a special display area to this day.

At the time Jefferson was often viewed as primarily a farmer yet his library included books in foreign languages and volumes of philosophy, science, literature, and other topics not normally viewed as part of a legislative library. He wrote, "I do not know that it contains any branch of science which Congress would wish to exclude from their collection; there is, in fact, no subject to which a Member of Congress may not have occasion to refer."

"The Jeffersonian concept of universality, the belief that all subjects are important to the library of the American legislature, is the philosophy and rationale behind the comprehensive collecting policies of today's Library of Congress." LOC website.

The LOC seems pretty successful in their mission, the collection of more than 130 million items includes more than 29 million cataloged books and other print materials in 460 languages; more than 58 million manuscripts; the largest rare book collection in North America; and the world's largest collection of legal materials, films, maps, sheet music, and sound recordings.

The Library of Congress occupies three buildings on Capitol Hill, The Jefferson building, John Adams and James Madison buildings. The photos featured here are of the Jefferson building. There are two additional building that are not on Capitol Hill, one of which is preserving film and sound recordings.

Researchers can go to the LOC and view books and documents in the reading room. The photo shows what an elaborate area the reading room is. The books are brought to your desk by an attendant, treated as national treasures. I like that idea. Their book delivery system is efficient and reminded me of a streamlined baggage handling system for fragile items! Here is an establishment that views books and knowledge as a treasure.

The LOC has been busy scanning many of their treasures and making them available online as well. They are keeping up with the modern world in their mission.

I can see that the next time I am in D.C. I will just have to go to the Library of Congress and soak up the atmosphere in the reading room!! If you have a chance to watch this episode on the History Channel I think you might be surprised as well.

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Karen Russell said...

I have been fortunate enough to do research in the Library and it really is... incredible. If you want to see something in particular, you can contact one of the librarians in advance and they will help you. For example, when I was there I went to the archives and reporters and scholars were looking through Thurgood Marshall's papers, which had just been opened to the public. It was SO COOL.

A.F. Heart said...


Thank you for sharing your experience. Yep, I hope to see it someday. I guess that means it is on my "bucket list" !

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