By JOHN Y. COLE
The fourth Library of Congress Bicentennial publication, The Nation's Library: The Library of Congress, Washington, D.C., by Alan Bisbort and Linda Barrett Osborne, is the Library's first general guidebook since 1988.
The handsome 160-page paperback, which contains 130 illustrations, mostly in color, describes the Library's history, collections, current organization, activities and services. It is filled with details about the institution's many special collections and includes a guide to the Library's Web site (www.loc.gov). The Nation's Library includes floor plans for each of the Library's three Capitol Hill buildings as well as an appendix on "Using the Library." The illustrations show items ranging from ancient maps to 20th century comic books, from documentary photographs to fine prints.
Published by the Library of Congress in association with Scala Publishers of London, The Nation's Library costs $16.95 and is available, along with other Bicentennial publications, from major bookstores and the Library of Congress Sales Shop, Washington, DC 20540-4985; credit card orders are taken at (202) 707-0204. The other Bicentennial publications are America's Library: The Story of the Library of Congress, 1800-2000, by James Conaway (Yale University Press, 2000); Thomas Jefferson: Genius of Liberty (Viking Studio, 2000); and The Library of Congress: An Architectural Alphabet (Pomegranate Communications, 2000).
Of the many guidebooks published when the Library of Congress moved from the U.S. Capitol into its own impressive building in 1897, by far the most comprehensive and authoritative was the well-illustrated Handbook of the New Library of Congress in Washington, which was compiled by Herbert Small and published in 1897 by Curtis & Cameron of Boston. Small, a Boston journalist, had written a guide to the new Boston Public Library a few years earlier. The first edition of the Handbook included two essays that enhanced the volume and widened its appeal: "The Architecture, Sculpture and Painting" by Charles Caffin, and "The Function of a National Library" by Librarian of Congress Ainsworth Rand Spofford.
For his handbook, Small obtained information directly from many of the principals, particularly superintendent of construction Bernard R. Green, architect Edward Pearce Casey and Librarian Spofford, noting in his preface that "without their assistance the book could hardly have been written." He also interviewed Elmer E. Garnsey, architect Casey's assistant in charge of decoration and many of the artists.
Herbert Small's detailed and superb description of the building's major architectural and decorative features has been reprinted many times. Most recently a lightly edited version of his 1897 text was published in the 320-page volume The Library of Congress: The Art and Architecture of the Thomas Jefferson Building, which was edited by this writer and Henry Hope Reed and published in 1997 by W.W. Norton in association with the Library.
The Library's 380-page Annual Report for 1901 surveys the institution's history, organization, facilities, collections and operations. It is the first printed guide to the Library's collections and services. The building is not neglected, however, for the chapter on "the Library Building and Grounds" includes 10 black-and-white photographs of the Library's basement heating apparatus and book carrier system, in which the Library's administrators took great pride.
A Sampling of 20th Century Guidebooks
Following is a sampling of other early guidebooks, each produced by the Library. They all reflect an expanding self-awareness of the importance of the collections and services and of the Library's importance as a national institution.
- The Library and Its Work, 1904. This eight-page booklet (left), published for distribution at the 1904 Louisiana Purchase Exposition, or "World's Fair," in St. Louis, is the prototype for brief guidebooks that combine descriptions of the Library's history, building, collections and services. It also lists the Library's principal officers. It was the first in the series of five booklets distributed at the fair in connection with the Library's exhibition about itself and its functions and services. The others described "The Exhibit of the Library of Congress"; "The Exhibit of the Catalog Division"; "Bindings"; and "Manuscripts."
- The Library of Congress and Its Work, 1907. A 21-page publication that incorporated highlights from the five booklets published in 1904.
- The Library of Congress, by William Warner Bishop, Superintendent of the Reading Room, 1912. A 19-page pamphlet that includes six floor plans. Updated versions were published into the 1920s.
- A Complete Collection of the Quotations and Inscriptions in the Library of Congress, by Emily L'Oiseau Walter. Baltimore: Simon G. Gaeng, 1930. 11th Revised Edition. The first edition was published in 1897.
- The Library of Congress: Certain Objects of Interest to Visitors, 1934.
- The Library of Congress: Its Collections and Services, 1941. Second edition 1942, reprinted 1945.
- Guide to the Library of Congress, by Charles A. Goodrum and Helen W. Dalrymple (pictured below), 1982. A 119-page guidebook that combines information about the Library's history, buildings and functions with descriptions of its various collections and reading rooms. In his introduction, Librarian of Congress Daniel J. Boorstin explains that readers will find, in this book and "at your service, the world's greatest Multi-Media Encyclopedia."
- The Library of Congress. Its Architecture and Decoration, W.W. Norton 1982 (below, left). An updated version of Herbert Small's 1897 Handbook published in The Classical America Series in Art and Architecture.
- Guide to the Library of Congress, by Charles A. Goodrum and Helen W. Dalrymple, 1988 (below, right). An updated version of the 1982 edition, which was first revised and updated in 1985. In his introduction, Dr. Billington explains that since he became Librarian in 1987, the Library has been examining ways of making more of this "extraordinary national treasure, described in detail in this book, more accessible to more of our nation's citizens."
Mr. Cole is director of the Center for the Book and co-chair of the Bicentennial Steering Committee.