By ERIN ALLEN
The Library of Congress has gone viral, and no, that doesn’t mean it has caught a cold with all systems on lockdown. Quite the contrary—the venerable institution is more “out there” for the world to see than ever before. Information on Library news and events is available through Twitter, more than 30 RSS and e-mail news-alert services, and one of the first blogs from a federal agency.
In addition to these web 2.0 enterprises, YouTube has begun sharing Library content from its vast video collections on the YouTube web service as part of a continuing initiative to make its incomparable treasures more widely accessible to a broad audience. “The Library of Congress launched the first U.S. agency-wide blog two years ago and continued its pioneering social-media role with initiatives such as the immensely successful Flickr pilot project,” said Librarian of Congress James H. Billington. “We have long seen the value of such interaction with the public to help achieve our missions, and these agreements remove many of the impediments to making our unparalleled content more useful to many more people.”
A channel on the video service (www.youtube.com/user/LibraryOfCongress) is devoted to Library content, including talks and lectures of authors and scholars and film presentations from the American Memory collections. Not surprisingly, videos of Library content already exist on YouTube. From a behind-the-scenes look at the Harry Houdini collection with Penn and Teller and a Jimmy Buffet concert to fan-made videos of Thomas Jefferson Building tours and compilations of assets already available on the Library’s website, unofficial presentations are already popular.
Official Library YouTube offerings include films from the Thomas Edison studio. Beginning in the late 1880s, Edison’s labs not only built the equipment for filming and projecting films but also produced popular content for the new medium. These films, more than 100 years old, are valuable not only for historical purposes but also for their unique subject matter. Boxing cats, anyone? Or how about the muscular pageantry of Sandow, “the father of modern bodybuilding?”
Classic industrial films from the Westinghouse Works, produced in April-May 1904, also are available on the Library’s YouTube channel. The executives of the Westinghouse Works prided themselves on being modern and progressive. Most prominently featured are the Westinghouse Air Brake Company, the Westinghouse Electric and Manufacturing Company and the Westinghouse Machine Company.
The Library’s Motion Picture, Broadcasting and Recorded Sound Division has remastered both of these collections for YouTube viewing. They are also available at an even higher resolution on the Library’s site, further supporting the institution’s goal of being the mint repository of the nation’s history.
Additionally, YouTube is reaching new and broader audiences with video recordings of Library programs that once were available only to small, live audiences gathered locally to hear them. Such programs include author talks from the National Book Festival on the National Mall; authors’ book discussions sponsored by Books & Beyond of the Center for the Book at the Library; lectures given by John W. Kluge Center scholars at the Library; and Library curators’ Gallery Talk narratives about exhibitions.
Project coordinators say that a huge audience for this kind of content existed but was not aware of the offerings already made available on the Library’s website at www.loc.gov/webcasts/. By having a presence on YouTube, the Library can, in effect, bring itself to the masses.
The General Services Administration also announced agreements with Flickr, YouTube, Vimeo and blip.tv that will allow other federal agencies to participate in new media while meeting legal requirements and the unique needs of government. GSA plans to negotiate agreements with other providers, and the Library will explore these new media services when they are appropriate to its mission and as resources permit.
Erin Allen is a writer-editor in the Library’s Public Affairs Office.