By ERIN ALLEN
Dominating the news in February was the Jan. 31 announcement of a $2 million grant awarded to the Library of Congress by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation to digitize thousands of works in the public domain. The project, titled "Digitizing American Imprints at the Library of Congress," will focus on "brittle books" and U.S. history volumes along with the development of suitable page-turner display technology, capability to scan and display foldouts, and a pilot program to capture items such as tables of contents, chapters, sections and indexes. (See story on page 49.)
Covering the Sloan Foundation grant were media outlets such as Network World, The Associated Press, Technology Daily, Roll Call, TG Daily, CNN.com, The State in Columbia, S.C., The Chronicle: Wired Campus Blog, The Columbus Dispatch in Ohio, Ventura County Star in California, Wilkes Barre Times Leader in Pennsylvania and Managing Information.
Former Secretary of State James Baker delivered the fifth annual Kissinger Lecture on Foreign Policy at the Library on Feb. 27—just a few hours after the Bush administration, in a reversal, said it would join an Iraq-sponsored "neighbors meeting" with Iran and Syria. (See story on page 60.) In attendance were former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte and Robert Gallucci, former chief U.S. negotiator during the North Korean nuclear crisis of 1994. Baker's lecture on the diplomatic future of the United States garnered media attention from such outlets as The New York Times and the Associated Press.
As the co-chair of the Iraq Study Group, Baker offered guidelines for effective U.S. foreign policy, including advocating the need to be flexible, opening dialogue with the country's enemies and changing course if necessary. "America must be prepared to talk to our enemies," he said.
Librarian of Congress James H. Billington made news by sharing his list of the five most important books with Newsweek in its Feb. 5 edition. He extolled the virtues of the Bible, but dismissed Victor Hugo's "Les Misérables" as "long and tedious" and not warranting a rereading.
"War and Peace" by Leo Tolstoy was a close second, followed by "The Possessed" by Fyodor Dostoyevsky, "Moby-Dick" by Herman Melville—which the Librarian described as "an amazing adventure that gets us all on the boat in pursuit of something other than happiness"—"The Nature and Destiny of Man" by Reinhold Niebuhr and any poem by John Keats.
Showing a bit of whimsy, Billington admitted one of his favorite books that he shared with his own children was "The Book About Moomin, Mymble and Little My" by Tove Jansson. "I should say all these deeper things [about the book] … but it's just an awful lot of fun," he said.
These books are just a few of the 20 million volumes held by the Library of Congress. The Librarian had the opportunity to discuss these fascinating facts with Dan Rather for the Jan. 23 edition of "Dan Rather Reports" on HDNet. He also spoke on the history of the Library and its direction for the future.
As well as being the largest library in the world with more than 134 million items, the Library is often acclaimed for its architectural splendor, particularly the Thomas Jefferson Building. In fact, it ranked 28th out of 150 U.S. buildings that were included in the American Institute of Architects' recent poll of top works of American architecture. This fact was picked up by both Roll Call and the Wall Street Journal. While New York's Empire State Building came in at number one, six sites in the nation's capital took the top 10, including the White House (2), Washington National Cathedral (3), the Jefferson Memorial (4), the U.S. Capitol (6), the Lincoln Memorial (7) and the Vietnam Veterans Memorial (10).
Speaking of monuments, in the cover story of the November–December 2006 issue of American Spirit, reporter Lee Gimpel described the Library as "a monument to American achievement" and a "symbol of knowledge." He extolled the splendor of the Jefferson Building, a building "reminiscent of St. Peter's in Vatican City or the Duomo in Florence"—where the themes of education and knowledge are repeated throughout.
Gimpel's article focuses on the relationship between the Founding Fathers and the nascent congressional library. An interview with Gerard Gawalt of the Library's Manuscript Division revealed that those charged with drafting the nation's new laws consulted reference books, legal tomes, maps and travel books. According to Gawalt, these volumes expanded congressional minds and experiences during a time when access to books was not widespread.
Gimpel also explains Thomas Jefferson's legacy with regard to the Library's collection: The Library "rose phoenix-like from the ashes of British immolation," thanks to Jefferson selling his personal collection of 6,487 books to Congress following the 1814 burning of the Capitol, in which the congressional collection was originally housed.
"Jefferson's collection changed our mission because it forever expanded it," said John Cole, director for the Center for the Book, who was also interviewed for the article. "[Jefferson believed] in having educated citizens as the basis for a democracy."
This meant that Congress was responsible for sharing the knowledge and opening the Library to the citizens—a mission that today has grown to encompass the world.
Erin Allen is a writer-editor in the Library's Public Affairs Office.