By JOHN Y. COLE
By its nature, the Library's Annual Report is the most "definitive" Library of Congress publication. Because its reporting year corresponds to the government fiscal year, beginning on Oct. 1 and concluding on Sept. 30, the Library of Congress Annual Report covering the Bicentennial year of 2000 will not be published until 2001. The newly published Annual Report for 1999 is of special interest for another reason, however: its size (8 1/2-by-11 inches) and length (180 pages) are similar to the large-format, historically-oriented reports published between 1901 and 1988.
Since the first printed report in 1866, the Library's Annual Reports have reflected the goals of the officer in charge of the institution, the Librarian of Congress. For example, arguments (actually pleas) for a separate Library of Congress building dominated the reports of Ainsworth Rand Spofford (1864-1897), and Librarian of Congress Herbert Putnam (1899-1939) felt his 40 Annual Reports so thoroughly described his goals and accomplishments that he had no reason to write a separate autobiography.
A selective sampling of the Annual Reports reveals how they have changed over the years to reflect a changing institution.
1861 and 1863
Two lengthy handwritten "annual reports" are in the Library's Archives in the Manuscript Division; the first is dated Dec. 16, 1861, and the second, Jan. 7, 1863. Both are critical of the Library's current condition, and the second includes many specific proposals for improvement. Although the first is unsigned and the second is signed by Librarian of Congress John G. Stephenson (1861-1864), this writer believes that both were written by Assistant Librarian Spofford, who joined the Library's small staff in September 1861.
The first printed report, only five pages long (pictured above left), was prepared by Librarian Spofford "in compliance with the instructions of the Joint Committee of both houses of Congress on the Library" and is published in paperbound form. In this brief document, Spofford established a pattern that he used, with few variations, in his next 30 Annual Reports. Each is between five and 11 pages in length and states the Library's needs and accomplishments succinctly and in a positive manner. In 1869 the report's subtitle changes from "Condition of the Library" to "The Progress of the Library." The dominating theme in most of Spofford's reports is the need for space for the growing collections (the Library was in the Capitol until 1897).
Spofford tells Congress that the Library has exhausted all shelf space and that books "from sheer force of necessity, being piled on the floor in all directions" throughout the Capitol building. Unless Congress takes quick action on a new Library building, its Librarian soon will be placed "in the unhappy predicament of presiding over the greatest chaos in America."
Librarian of Congress John Russell Young (1897-99), in his first report, presents a thorough, 51-page description that provides details about the Library's move from the Capitol into its own building and the implementation of the new (effective July 1, 1897) reorganization and expansion. It also is the first Annual Report that is hardbound and published as a congressional document.
Librarian Herbert Putnam (1899-1939) looks ahead in this formidable, 380-page historical document. Because the Library's future opportunities, he feels, "appear in its constitutional relations, its present and developing equipment, its organization, the character of the material which it now has, and its resources for increase," he summarizes the "present facts" regarding each in an illustrated 180-page "Part II" or "Manual." In addition to valuable historical data, Part II includes the most detailed description of the Library's collections put together up to that time.
Librarian of Congress Archibald MacLeish (1939-1944) presents Congress with the most thorough and the longest (555 pages) Annual Report in the Library's history. MacLeish's first report as Librarian is concerned with 1) the condition of the Library when he took office on Oct. 1, 1939, 2) the needs of the Library, and 3) "action taken and plans prepared to meet these needs." The collections are evaluated regarding strengths and weaknesses. The Librarian emphasizes that Congress has made the Library "a people's library of reference," and, in this spirit, he presents a comprehensive statement of the Library's acquisitions policies ("The Canons of Selection") and of its research objectives ("The Canons of Service."). The paperbound version of MacLeish's 1942 report is pictured at right.
Librarian Luther Evans (1945-1953) increases the physical size of the Library's Annual Report from 6 by 9 inches to 7 by 10-3/4 inches.
Librarian Evans uses his 1946 Annual Report to respond to Congress's doubts about the Library's national role, including, as a 227-page first chapter, David C. Mearns's classic history of the Library, The Story Up to Now.
In a departure from previous formats and to mark the 70th anniversary of the opening of the Jefferson (or "Main") building in 1897 (top left), the Annual Report design is keyed to the building's architecture and art and features quotations about the building from Librarian Spofford and Herbert Small's Handbook of the New Library of Congress (1897).
Illustrations on the cover and throughout the report depict cranes on the construction site of the new James Madison Memorial Building (top left), which opened in 1980.
Librarian of Congress Daniel J. Boorstin's Annual Reports, beginning in 1977 and continuing through 1986, are issued in two versions: a 32-page, illustrated, paperbound report in a 6-by-9-inch format and aimed at a "popular" audience, and a lengthier, hardbound report in an 8-by-10-inch format.
The 85-page report (left), the second presented by Librarian of Congress James H. Billington (1987-present) is issued in one version only: a 6-by-9-inch paperback. A Library of Congress Special Announcement explained that it "differs in several ways from Annual Reports of previous years." It is more compact, lists and tables (formerly appendixes) have been integrated into the text, and it is organized "in thematic sections rather than departmental chapters." It is being distributed "more widely throughout the Library than has been customary."
With the return of departmental chapters and the addition of historical documents such as the Librarian's testimony before Congress, the Annual Report doubles in page size, from 96 pages in 1994 to 174 pages.
Mr. Cole is director of the Center for the Book and co-chair of the Bicentennial Steering Committee.