By MARK HARTSELL
Get ready for your close-up, Library of Congress: The Library is the subject of a 90-minute documentary—the fourth in a series about iconic federal institutions in Washington, D.C.—that aired on C-SPAN in July. It can be viewed online at www.c-span.org/loc/.
“The Library of Congress” offers the public a behind-the-scenes peek at the institution: Cameras peer inside the vault that holds the Library’s greatest treasures, venture into the cupola high above the Main Reading Room, get up close with prize pieces of the collections and watch as conservation teams work to preserve collection items—all in high definition.
The film, which includes interviews with about two dozen members of the Library staff, follows similar C-SPAN documentaries about the White House, the U.S. Capitol and the Supreme Court.
“It was an opportunity for us to look at some of these places that C-SPAN uniquely can,” said Connie Doebele, who produced the documentary on the Library. “We have the time and we have the access and the ability to give it kind of a C-SPAN look that was a very serious look but also do it in a way people can understand.”
The project was conceived more than four years ago when Librarian of Congress James H. Billington watched the C-SPAN documentary about the White House and figured the Library would make a perfect subject for a similar piece.
A meeting of Billington, Doebele and C-SPAN founder and CEO Brian Lamb soon followed.
“He called up Brian and said, ‘You guys should come do this at the Library of Congress,’ “ Doebele said. “And we said, ‘Yeah, thanks for the invitation.’ And off we went to the races.”
Doebele started work on the project in 2008. Shooting began in late 2009 and lasted about a year.
“It was really necessary to spend the time—especially when you’re talking about high-definition video,” Doebele said. “It has to be lit very well. There are a lot of things that go into it.”
The documentary examines highlights of the collections: presidential papers, Waldseemüller’s map, the famed “Migrant Mother” photo from the Depression, the drafts of the Declaration of Independence and the Gettysburg Address, among many others. Segments also focus on the work of the Preservation Directorate.
Much time is spent on another star: the art and architecture of the Jefferson Building.
“I don’t know of anywhere in this city that has that degree of beauty, and—the amazing part to me—everything [in it] means something,” Doebele said. “Nothing is just there for beauty.”
The filming in the cupola—the first there since the making of “All the President’s Men” in 1975—posed a few challenges and delivered a special thrill.
“We were able to put the HD camera—a smaller HD camera—on a pole and sit it out over the edge of the top and get the shot straight down and also turn it up and get the shot of the Blashfield painting close up,” Doebele said. “It was just one of those tingly moments, I guess.
“All of [these documentaries] have been in HD, which is a way to bring these buildings to the American people in a way they have never seen before. The HD quality of all these programs is pretty amazing.”
Mark Hartsell is editor of The Gazette, the Library’s staff newsletter.