If you’re like me, you consult what the Library of Congress is up to in many ways. Is this a DLC record? What LCSH can be added to a record? Besides the many services that we use from the Library of Congress, it is also a library that is great to visit. I was able to go once several years ago. Much to my delight, our librarian tour guide took us to the back rooms and closed stacks! My biggest surprise: overflow. There was simply not enough room for all the books. There were tiny piles on the floor of books that couldn’t be shelved. Despite that very real moment and realization that the Library of Congress shares many of the problems that all the rest of us face, it is still a magical place to visit.
C-SPAN recently posted their documentary on the Library of Congress.
The Library of Congress is the largest library in the world with nearly 150 million items. It was started in 1800. Its first books were bought from England with a $5,000 appropriation from Congress. Housed in the U.S. Capitol, the library was destroyed in 1814 when British soldiers burned the building. Hearing of the fire, Thomas Jefferson offered to sell Congress his book collection. After much debate, Congress agreed to buy the collection for just under $24,000. In 1851, another fire destroyed 2/3 of the library’s holdings. In 1870, Congress passed copyright legislation that required two copies of every book published be sent to the Library of Congress. Subsequently, the holdings of the library grew extensively. Congress debated whether to give the library its own building. That didn’t happen until much later. The library moved out of the Capitol building and into the Jefferson building in 1897. Today, the Library of Congress spans over a total of 8 buildings.
Enjoy the show!
Some time ago, Thomas Mann’s published to the web his article, “What is distintive about the Library of Congress in both its collections and its means of access to them, and the reasons LC needs to maintain classified shelving of books onsite, and a way to deal effectively with the problem of “books on the floor””. It has already made the rounds of many blogs and listservs; to access the PDF version, click here.
Recently, Jim Weinheimer, from the Cooperative Cataloging Rules and an active participant on the NGC4LIB listserv, published a reply to Thomas Mann called “An Open Reply to Thomas Mann”. The pdf can be found at: http://eprints.rclis.org/17331/1/OpenMannDistinctive.pdf.
Jim offers delivers some good replies to Thomas Mann. Two that stand out are:
- Jim explains that Mann argues that: “We cannot do new things because we are too busy doing old things.”
- Here, Jim objects to the view that librarianship is experiencing a small “bump” as he calls it. After this curve in the road, things will return to normal. I agree with Jim. Librarianship is not experiencing just a bump in the road. Librarianship is radically changing in ways I don’t think we even understand yet. Sticking to the routine or to how things have always been done will not help us prepare for these changes.
- Jim argues against libraries and librarians being “custodians of the printed materials”
- Libraries have long since regarded themselves as solely in the print business and storing print materials. For one, it is extremely expensive and not many institutions have a budget that would allow to buy, maintain, and store a host of printed materials. Also, in order to serve their communities, it has long been known that libraries need communities services, outreach programs, services for computers, wi-fi, etc. This means that libraries are more than storage units for printed materials. What makes them come alive is their array of services that include print materials and much more.
- The old days of librarianship are over.
- Technology is changing ever so rapidly. The way people interact with that technology to inform themselves is also changing. It is not that print materials are not a way to become informed. But it is not the only way now. Given the variety of how people seek, gather, and obtain information, libraries need to be thinking of how to meet these needs, namely how to change to meet these needs.
Jim’s reply is not long (7 pages). It is worth reading.
Thomas Mann’s article, “What is distintive about the Library of Congress in both its collections and its means of access to them, and the reasons LC needs to maintain classified shelving of books onsite, and a way to deal effectively with the problem of “books on the floor””, has already made the rounds of many blogs and listservs; to access the PDF version, click here. As always, Thomas Mann presents a good read and persuasive arguments against transforming the Library of Congress into something it isn’t.
To back up, the mission of the Library of Congress is:
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.
This is from their mission and strategic priorities 1997-2004. The document goes on to list four priorities that touch primarily on how LC is to acquire, organize, preserve, maintain, secure, sustain, make available to Congress and the American people for present and future use the collection of human knowledge and creativity.
It is unprecedented in human history — and a uniquely American offer — to open public access to an institution that is in many respects the working library of a government and a de facto national library.
What does Thomas Mann suggest the Library of Congress is turning into? In short, he is criticising a report by Deanna Marcum called “The Meeting on Digital Strategy”. His argues that Deanna compares LC to Google, newspapers and their for-profit business model, and Amazon and their business model of making a profit rather than promoting scholarship. In this sense, Thomas Mann suggeststhat Deanna Marcum is one of many who want to turn the Library of Congress into a for-profit business that purports to provide “easy” digital access to current and quick information. It is a striking commentary. However, Thomas Mann provides some persuasive arguments about why LC cannot do this.
- From reading LC’s mission statement as well as Thomas’ summary of it, it is clear that LC strives to preserve past and current knowledge and human creativity. It receives as part of this goal millions of free books thanks to the mandate that all copyright books in the US be deposited in LC. In terms of providing access to these resources, LC is unique in that it provides sometimes the only copy of that item. Because not everything has been digitized and items still in copyright are not digitized, this means that LC is the only place to consult these materials. If this stopped, then access to these resources would no longer be available. As Thomas Mann points out, this would be a serious blow to scholarship.
- LC has in its mandate to provide resources for scholars as well as Congress and US citizens. In this sense, it is not just a question of finding quick and easy information that may or may not be relevent. The one stop search box and search results based on keywords is not practical. Thomas Mann gives a good example. What is a person is looking for a document about square footage and population statistics. But the document does not have such keywords as square footage, sq. ft., population, statistics, stats, or some variation of those words. Then any search with these keywords will not yield the wanted document. However, with the amount of results that such a search on Google would turn up, the person probably wouldn’t know the existence of such a document. The key to LC’s way of organizing information is that it does not rely on keywords but a classification based on a hierarchy of subjects as well as a classification alpha-numeric string denoting the primary subject. So if the document does not have any keywords of population or statistics, this would be reflected in the subject headings. Thomas Mann argues that this type of information allows scholars to find relevent information.
- Access to scholarship and quality of cataloging
- Given the last example, Thomas Mann points out that easy access to information depends on the quality of cataloging. He was able to find the resource needed because the catalogers at LC put in subject headings and a call number. Unlike Google or Amazon, LC describes each resource and provides several ways of accessing that resource (author, subjects, title, …).
- Non commercial
- Another aspect that Thomas Mann sees as separating LC from other libraries is that it is non commercial. Given its mandate to preserve and provide access to human creativity and knowledge, LC is going to collect and make available resources that simply are not current, do not fit into any business model, and will not make a profit for LC. In fact, Thomas Mann says that without the help of taxpayers money, LC would have folded years ago because it is not in the money making business.
Thomas Mann asks us to question the drive to digitize collections in terms of what is being digitized and the type of access provided with online resources. He also asks us to look at what libraries are and what the Library of Congress means to the United States. If it is a de facto national library, should this be clearly stated in its mission? This is an interesting article and well worth reading whether or not you agree with Mann.
This announcement recently came through the OLAC listserv. For those interested in LC’s genre and form headings, definitely go and take a look at this document. The Policy and Standards Division is looking for your comments!
As part of its ongoing moving image genre/form headings project, early
this year the Policy and Standards Division (PSD) of the Library of
Congress developed a plan to cancel the existing subject headings that
denote genres and forms of video recordings. On May 11, 2009, PSD
posted a discussion paper on its web site and requested public comment.
(The discussion paper is available at
After reviewing all of the input it received, PSD will follow through
on most of the proposals presented in the discussion paper. In summary,
the decisions are:
· Topical headings (MARC tag 150) denoting a genre
or form of video recording will be cancelled in favor of the correlated
· The heading Video mini-series will be revised to
Film mini-series and the heading Television mini-series will be
· The existing topical heading Interactive video will be made
plural and a genre/form heading will be created; and,
· Genre/form headings for Internet videos, podcasts, and webisodes
will be created.
A full explanation of the decisions and the rationales behind them is
available at <http://www.loc.gov/catdir/cpso/videorecheadings2.pdf>.
PSD sincerely thanks all those who provided their thoughts on the
Janis L. Young
Policy and Standards Division
Library of Congress