An Awesome Tool for Researchers -- The Library of Congress
by C.S. Clarke, Ph.D.
Are you familiar with the fantastic resources of the Library of Congress?
Not the website -- although that is a treasure in itself. (And I will say
more about the website later.) I mean, have you had occasion to explore
the services and opportunities offered on premises in Washington, D.C.?
Do you know about the Associates Program?
If you've been there, done that, you know what I mean by awesome.
If you haven't, stay tuned to this channel for an important announcement:
Your federal government actually does something nice for you -- with
customer service that rivals anything corporate trainers in excellence
say should be done.
There are three aspects of an experience with the LOC that make it such
a wonder: the environment, the people and the resources. The facilities
not only beautiful but well-organized and user-friendly. The people
who work directly with the public are enthusiastically helpful. And
the more than 500 miles of shelved material alone, the books, manuscripts,
journals, periodicals, maps, prints, photo collections, audio and audio-visual
materials on premises makes it the largest respository of documentation
in the world. Almost all of it is available to you to research --
in any subject area you desire -- if you simply obtain a reader's card.
1. The Environment: The interior of the main building (Thomas
Jefferson Building) rivals a European cathedral for grandeur and beauty.
The main reading room is a marvel of architectural inspiration, its guilded
dome, high above the room's circle of readers' desks, suggesting that readers
are engaging in "lofty" pursuits. It is impossible to describe better
than demonstrate, so visit the room here: http://lcweb2.loc.gov/pnp/thc/5a50000/5a50700/5a50787r.jpg and visit the dome here: http://lcweb.loc.gov/loc/legacy/hl010001.jpg.
I am reluctant to place the pictures on this page, because of any possible
copyright infringement. But I encourage you to click on those foregoing
links and see what I'm talking about.
However, there is much more to the environment than the pretty faces
of the main reading room, the Great Hall and the galleries. There is the
skill and care with which the resources have been organized in the buildings
to serve the needs of the serious user. For example the 2 primary
facilities you as a reasearcher would use are organized thus: The research
librarians are stationed at the circular information desk in the center
of the main reading room and the readers' (researchers) desks are arranged
in a concentric circular pattern around the information area. That
means quick and easy access to the librarians regardless of where you find
a desk to use. Immediately across the hall from the main reading
room is the computer search facility, where you can sit down at a workstation
and connect to any of a number of databases to search for documents you
might want. And, yes, there are people to help you learn how to use
the databases, if you don't know. The workstations have laser printers
to print the information you find in the catalogs and databases.
After you find the reference numbers necessary to obtain your documents,
the librarians in the computer facility have request slips available right
at hand for you to fill out and take back to the reading room.
2. The People: I've already given you some clues about the personnel,
but let me make it explicit. Everyone from the docent who greets
you at the entry, through the various security people who safeguard the
library's treasures, to the librarians and other who assist you in the
reading and computer rooms ARE PLEASED AND EAGER TO HELP YOU. They
are knowledgable, well-organized and efficient. If one doesn't
know the answer to your question, he knows who does. You are seldom
more than one person away from what you need. Even the mundane task
of getting a reader's card to admit you to doing research is a pleasant
experience because of the friendliness and efficiency of the people who
help you through the process. Because of the differences I noted
between the folks at the LOC and many others I've encountered who work
with the public, I took the time to chat up a few of the people who were
helping me. Every one of them had glowing comments about how much
they loved their jobs and how they enjoyed working at LOC. Typical
of the people I encountered in my first foray into the LOC was a woman
who assisted me at the LOC
Associates Desk. (Click here to find out about the benefits of the LOC
Associates.) Janet took the time to make sure I knew everything
about how to get a reader's card, how to find the various places I need
to go (right down to how to use the tunnels between the buildings and where
were the best places to get lunch), how to get started researching and
what benefits were available to me as a member of LOC Associates that would
facilitate my orientation to being a researcher in the library. But
more than that, she was so positive and enthusiastic about the library,
its benefits and its facilities that anyone who heard what she had to say
could not fail to be encouraged to run - not walk - to the office where
reader's cards are issued so they could get started right away.
3. The Resources: After I told you about the size of the library's
collections in the three buildings that house them, you may think that
that's both good news and bad news -- more than 500 miles of shelves to
search?! But no. The really good news is that as part of careful
conservation of the collections, the rule is that the public may not be
admitted to the stacks. What you do as a researcher is find specific
identifying information about the books, journals or other documentation
you need, fill out small request slips for each item, give the slips to
a research librarian in the main reading room (or for some research, a
different reading room), take a desk and THE LIBRARIANS BRING THE MATERIALS
TO YOUR DESK! Wow! If your project takes more than one day,
your desk and materials are reserved for you. If you have a fairly
long-term project, you can even get a small room or cubicle assigned to
you -- much like grad students at university. Anyone who has ever
had to do library research knows what an incredible benefit this is. AND
IT IS FREE. FREE.
Now it is time to talk about the LOC website. Obviously, the information
I've just shared with you about the LOC facility is also described on the
website. But there is so much there that it is not clear what is
the actual experience. I wanted to clarify in a literal 1,2,3 format
what you can do there. I've only touched on it briefly. More
information about researching on premises is here on the website: http://lcweb.loc.gov/rr/
and here: http://lcweb.loc.gov/rr/main/inforeas/ and the home page for the Library of Congress is here: http://www.loc.gov . I can't do better for the website than say go use it yourself,
if you haven't before.