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Director's Column

PLSJC Director Alan Hall writes a weekly column discussing library and community news, history, and other interesting subjects.

The Library of Congress in 2017

By Alan Hall, Director, PLSJ
Publish Date - Sunday, February 5, 2017


Librarians are excited that Carla Hayden has been appointed the 14th Librarian of the Library of Congress and began her duties last September.


Legislation approved in 2015 now sets the tenure of the Librarian of Congress at 10 years with the possibility of reappointment.


Since the first librarian was appointed in 1802, some 14 people have occupied the position, with 3 individuals serving more than 30 years each.


Ms. Hayden is only the first woman and second librarian to occupy the position, joining lawyers and historians who have served the Library of Congress.


Her experience included tenure at both the Chicago Public Library and the Enoch Pratt Free Library of Baltimore, and a term as President of the American Library Association.


In her short time on-the-job, Carla Hayden has developed new cooperative efforts with two other federal information agencies – the National Archives and the Smithsonian Institution.


The Library of Congress is considered the “National Library” of the United States, established by an Act of Congress in 1800 to serve as the reference library for Congress.


First housed in the U.S. Capitol Building, the Library of Congress was destroyed in August 1814 when the British burned the building.


In January 1815, Congress accepted the offer of former President Thomas Jefferson to sell his personal library collection to serve as the cornerstone of a new library collection for the price of $ 23,500.


For much of the 19th Century the Library of Congress remained in the Capitol until the vast holdings of the Copyright Office showed the need for a new building.


In 1897, the library moved to the new library across the street, today called the Thomas Jefferson Building; supplemented by the 1939 Adams Building, and the 1980 Madison Building as well as off-site buildings in the D.C. area.


Today there are 838 miles of library shelving, open to anyone over age 16 for research purposes.  Some 3,200 staff are employed by the Library of Congress.


The Library of Congress does not own every book published in the U.S., but they do have 36 million books and printed materials and 121 million non-book items.

None of the collection can be checked out of the buildings.  All items must be requested from closed stacks and used in the building.  You must apply for a research pass before being allowed in the library spaces of the building.


If you are a tourist in the D.C. area, you can visit the Library of Congress through the new underground connection to the U.S. Capitol Visitor’s Center which allows you to tour the public galleries of the Jefferson Building which includes some of the treasured items of the LC, including the Jefferson Collection and the Gutenberg Bible.


Different exhibits are contained in the public galleries.


The Library of Congress is automated making searching much easier than decades ago.  Their web site, shows complete access to the collection and much of their exhibits and may be easier than a personal visit.


The Local History and Genealogy Department even recommends that you visit your local public library first, rather than come directly to the Library of Congress.


Librarian Carla Hayden, in a recent interview, quoted Frederick Douglass who said, “Once you learn to read, you will be forever free.”  You can absorb information yourself and make your own decisions, that’s a freedom.


She also commented that librarians are often considered “radical” because of our stance for open access to information.


I guess that just comes with the occupation.  When I served as President of the Ohio Library Association in the 1990s, I was told that I was added to federal security lists for monitoring.


Ms. Hayden states that all librarians as information professionals are looking for what’s the most authoritative source of information and teaching information literacy.


She says that “as soon as a child can push a button,” it is time to begin teaching them information literacy and research.