LIBRARY OF CONGRESS

July 22, 2017


About two weeks ago I visited our Chattanooga Hamilton County Bicentennial Public Library.  The library is right downtown and performs a great service to the citizens of the tri-state area—or at one time did.  Let me explain.   I needed to check out a book on Product Lifecycle Management (PLM) for a course I’m writing for PDHonline.com.  PDH is the online publisher providing continuing education units (CEUs) for individuals needing twelve (12) or twenty-four (24) credit units per year.  Enough of that.

The science and technical material has always been on the second floor providing a wealth of information for gear-heads like me.  At one time, the library maintained up to date information on most subjects technical and otherwise.   I have been told in times past: “if we don’t have it—we can order it for you”.   I was absolutely amazed as to what I found.  The floor was almost vacant.  All of the technical books and material were gone.  There were no stacks—no books—no periodicals providing monthly information.  You could have turned the second floor into a bowling alley with room for a bar and grill.  (I suggested that to the librarian on my way out.)  I went over to the desk to inquire as to where were all the book.  All the technical “stuff”.  I was told the “Public Library is now focusing on cultural information and was no longer a research library. You can find most of that information on line”.  Besides, those who visit the library on a regular basis voted to eliminate our research capability”.  I inquired, ‘you mean to tell me I can check our “Fifty Shades of Grey” but can’t find information on ANY technical subject?”  I am assuming with that comment I am no longer on her Christmas card list.  It did not go over very well and by the way, I did not get a vote.  What genius made that decision anyway?  That statement also went over like a led balloon.  I left.

I decided to take a look at what complexities might be involved with getting a library card from the Library of Congress.  That lead me to obtaining information on the Library.  This is what I found.

HISTORY:

The Library of Congress was established by an act of Congress in 1800.  President John Adams signed a bill providing for the transfer of the seat of government from Philadelphia to the new capital city of Washington. The legislation described a reference library for Congress only, containing “such books as may be necessary for the use of Congress – and for putting up a suitable apartment for containing them therein…”

Established with $5,000 appropriated by the legislation, the original library was housed in the new Capitol until August 1814, when invading British troops set fire to the Capitol Building, burning and pillaging the contents of the small library.  Within a month, retired President Thomas Jefferson offered his personal library as a replacement. Jefferson had spent fifty (50) years accumulating books, “putting by everything which related to America, and indeed whatever was rare and valuable in every science”; his library was considered to be one of the finest in the United States.  In offering his collection to Congress, Jefferson anticipated controversy over the nature of his collection, which 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.”

In January 1815, Congress accepted Jefferson’s offer, appropriating $23,950 for his 6,487 books, and the foundation was laid for a great national library. 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.

Ainsworth Rand Spofford, Librarian of Congress from 1864 to 1897, applied Jefferson’s philosophy on a grand scale and built the Library into a national institution. Spofford was responsible for the copyright law of 1870, which required all copyright applicants to send to the Library two copies of their work. This resulted in a flood of books, pamphlets, maps, music, prints, and photographs. Facing a shortage of shelf space at the Capitol, Spofford convinced Congress of the need for a new building, and in 1873 Congress authorized a competition to design plans for the new Library.

In 1886, after many proposals and much controversy, Congress authorized construction of a new Library building in the style of the Italian Renaissance in accordance with a design prepared by Washington architects John L. Smithmeyer and Paul J. Pelz.  The Congressional authorization was successful because of the hard work of two key Senators: Daniel W. Voorhees (Indiana), who served as chairman of the Joint Committee from 1879 to 1881, and Justin S. Morrill (Vermont), chairman of Senate Committee on Buildings and Grounds.

In 1888, General Thomas Lincoln Casey, chief of the Army Corps of Engineers, was placed in charge of construction. His chief assistant was Bernard R. Green, who was intimately involved with the building until his death in 1914. Beginning in 1892, a new architect, Edward Pearce Casey, the son of General Casey, began to supervise the interior work, including sculptural and painted decoration by more than 50 American artists. When the Library of Congress building opened its doors to the public on November 1, 1897, it was hailed as a glorious national monument and “the largest, the costliest, and the safest” library building in the world.

FACTS AND INFORMATION:

Today’s Library of Congress is an unparalleled world resource. The collection of more than 164 million items includes more than 38.6 million cataloged books and other print materials in 470 languages; more than 70 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.

In fiscal year 2016 (October 2015 to September 2016), the Library of Congress …

  • Responded to more than 1 million reference requests from Congress, the public and other federal agencies and delivered approximately 18,380 volumes from the Library’s collections to congressional offices
  • Registered 414,269 claims to copyright through its U.S. Copyright Office
  • Circulated nearly 22 million copies of Braille and recorded books and magazines to more than 800,000 blind and physically handicapped reader accounts
  • Circulated more than 997,000 items for use inside and outside the Library
  • Preserved more than 10.5 million items from the Library’s collections
  • Recorded a total of 164,403,119 items in the collections
  • 24,189,688 cataloged books in the Library of Congress classification system
  • 14,660,079 items in the non-classified print collections, including books in large type and raised characters, incunabula (books printed before 1501), monographs and serials, bound newspapers, pamphlets, technical reports, and other printed material
  • 125,553,352 items in the non-classified (special) collections, including:
  • 3,670,573 audio materials, (discs, tapes, talking books, other recorded formats)
  • 70,685,319 manuscripts
  • 5,581,756 maps
  • 17,153,167 microforms
  • 1,809,351 moving images
  • 8,189,340 items of sheet music
  • 15,071,355 visual materials including:
  • 14,290,385 photographs
  • 107,825 posters
  • 673,145 prints and drawings
  • 3,392,491 other items, (including machine-readable items.
  • Welcomed nearly 1.8 million onsite visitors and recorded 92.8 million visits and more than 454 million-page views on the Library’s web properties
  • Employed 3,149 permanent staff members
  • Operated with a total fiscal 2016 appropriation of $642.04 million, including the authority to spend $42.13 million in receipts

I think anyone would admit, 2016 was a big year.  If we look at the library itself, we see the following grand structure inside and out:

As you might expect, the building itself is very imposing.

This is one view of the rotunda and the reading desks layout.

Very creative layout highlighting the arrangement in a circular pattern.

The reading desks from ground level.

CONCLUSIONS:

I intend to apply for a library card to the Library of Congress only because they have a mail-order arrangement any citizen and non-governmental type can use.  Better than buying book-after-book that probably will not be read more than once. The process is not that difficult and the paperwork is fairly straightforward, at least for the FED.

What do you think?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: