It has always been of great interest to visit 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, arguably the most renowned address in our nation's capital. There are tours for people to get a glimpse of the treasures within and learn a little about its notable residents. But if it is treasure you seek, and art, music, science, language, history, and -- more importantly -- knowledge and clarity, inspiration and motivation, you have to go to the Library of Congress. The best part? You can visit their address www.loc.gov ... anytime!
But, isn't that library restricted to certain, special people? Isn't it only for Congress? And, if not, perhaps it is too overwhelming for a regular student or parent or... anyone to use? Its holdings are mammoth, to be sure. According to their site,
The further you look, the more you realize the Library of Congress is, indeed, wildly impressive. But the Library is full of your greatest allies, Librarians! And they're dedicated to addressing the needs of all their patrons.
As the Library of Congress prepares to announce the launch of their LibGuides system, we had the great privilege of interviewing Helena Zinkham, Director of Special Collections and Donna Brearcliffe, Special Assistant of General and International Collections, and members of the LibGuides project team. We asked how they came to seek out and begin using LibGuides to tackle the monumental commitment to serve as the country's library and as a global source.
The Library of Congress reference librarians and subject specialists have long created pathfinders, search aids and annotated bibliographies. Like all libraries, we want to help users know where to get started to locate the information that’s relevant for their needs. We also want to help users navigate successfully through what can be an overwhelming amount of information, whether it’s in print, in a database, or on the Web.
With more than 5,000 research guides already on our website, we needed a new, easy-to-use platform to sustain the existing guides and also allow for new guides on new topics to be created and updated efficiently. We joined LibGuides because it’s recognized by teachers and students of all ages as a go-to resource. It's important to be part of a growing information network.
The team at the Library of Congress said,
One big misconception about the Library is that we are only for Congress. We are actually a blend of many types of libraries — research, special and public and our patron base is very diverse. We welcome family historians, scientists and comic book artists with the same warmth as academic scholars. We also provide plentiful online resources for teachers, students and life-long learners through a variety of education resources.
Founded in 1800, the Library of Congress is the oldest Federal cultural institution in the nation. Its scope stretches in all the directions the mind might wander. If we're considering time, for instance, the oldest written material in the Library is a cuneiform tablet dating from 2040 B.C. What about reach? The Library purchased in 1930, a Gutenberg Bible -- the 15th-century work is one of three perfect copies on vellum in the world, according to their site. People know the Library of Congress is full -- but it's full of surprises. The team also noted,
The Library of Congress is a unique institution among libraries, and we are the largest library in the world—imagine having more than 850 miles of shelving. Among the almost 170 million books, recordings, photographs, newspapers, maps and manuscripts in our collections are such unique treasures as the papers of Rosa Parks and George Washington in addition to the first map printed with the word “America” on it and the oldest known portrait photograph made in the United States, now known as the ‘first selfie.’ We are Congress’s Library, of course, as well as being the home of the U.S. Copyright Office, and the national library for the people of the United States.
Because LibGuides are so easy to build, Librarians are able to react quickly to the current headlines and therefore lend support to what's being researched and written about today. The Library of Congress could easily build a guide on the Cathedral of Notre Dame to help share the stunning array of images they have in their collection. They can also be agile enough to respond to feedback or trends or patron requests for specific guides. Helena and Donna said,
We have always responded to our patron feedback with the creation of research guides and bibliographies. LibGuides will help us be even more responsive. Our Primary Documents in American History and the Law: Beginner’s Guides are just two examples of research guides created in response to user interest.
Making sure that patrons can find what they're looking for is the sort of goal that some might take for granted as a given. The Library of Congress is steadfast in its focus here. No one is more aware of the vast number of items the library has on hand so they know it's critical to devise strategies to make them findable and accessible. The team said,
We are taking advantage of the LibGuides features for integrating our electronic resources with the A – Z Database List allowing our guide creators to easily integrate these resources in their research guides.This listing also provides another discovery point beyond our E-Resources Online Catalog.
We are also taking advantage of the Springshare API to index our research guides within the Library’s primary web site. Doing this allows our research guides to be displayed along with other Library collections in the search results for users at loc.gov. We want users to find the research guides while searching on the internet. We also want the users who reach the Library’s site to have the advantage of seeing the LibGuides entries in those search results.
When you have as many priorities to attend to and demographics to serve as this grand Library does, the last thing you need is to be running out of gas on a steep learning curve. The Library of Congress Team said,
The use of LibGuides allows us to create more specialized research guides and enables us to keep the public more informed with updates to our guides as new collections are acquired and available. Another benefit is that so many librarians now rely on LibGuides that newly hired staff are able to make new guides immediately. We have also trained 75 librarians in the last six months. All librarians can participate.
One change we’re noticing is the growing use of LibGuides internally as a way to offer instructional information. Documenting the internal procedures and practices for creating LibGuides was a natural fit, of course. That manual has inspired interest in providing instructions for other activities such as Story Maps, webinars, videos and tutorials to name a few.
The Library of Congress team wants -- more than anything -- for people to know that this Library is for you, and you, and everyone you know. It's for the science teacher who might love to know that the library has webcasts of lunchtime talks given by experts. It's for anyone interested in Wills, Probate and Advanced Directives. They have a Manuscript Reading Room guide that shares information about what you can find online about Washington, DC, history -- and at the library when you visit. Helena and Donna said,
We are more than Congress’s library – we are a library for the people too! Everyone is welcome to visit us in person or online and make use of our resources and the experience of our expert research and reference staff.
Our guides offer resources for every level of research from novice to scholar. There are guides that will address the needs of a general audience, beginning researcher and other guides are more comprehensive in the coverage of a unique collection or topic. All of our guides aim to highlight the content that is unique to the Library and when possible highlight resources that may be available to users within their local libraries.
The Library’s research guides are a way to bring together the best resources on any given topic and provide an avenue to share our primary sources with everyone.
The Library is for the people, but it can also be by the people. This Library, like your local library, needs you and would love your participation. Through their Virtual Volunteer crowdsourcing program, people can choose a campaign that is of interest and help to transcribe, tag, or review Letters to Lincoln or the papers of Mary Church Terrell. Participate! Listen to the webcasts. Peruse the photographs and maps. Let their LibGuides provide you with a springboard as you explore and learn. And, visit. The Library of Congress is not just saying you are welcome to do so. They're actively inviting you to walk through their doors. Put visiting the national library on your list of things you must do!