Citizens throughout the nation, together with their congressional representatives and local and state libraries, will have an opportunity to join the Library's celebration of its Bicentennial in 2000 by participating in special projects that will culminate on April 24, 2000, the 200th birthday of the institution. The celebration is intended to recognize the importance not only of the Library of Congress but of all libraries in a democratic society.
The Library, which is the nation's oldest federal cultural institution, announced on Oct. 6, 1997, its intention to celebrate the 200th anniversary of its founding in 1800. At that time, a logo for the Bicentennial was unveiled with the theme "Libraries, Creativity, Liberty." The following day, a gala was held in the Library's magnificently restored Thomas Jefferson Building to mark the inauguration of its Bicentennial celebration. The reception was the Library's first fund-raiser in its history, raising more than $800,000 for the Bicentennial.
"We will celebrate with pride our first 200 years of Library history," said Librarian of Congress James H. Billington. "During that time, the Library has grown into the world's largest repository of knowledge and creativity, which it has preserved for all generations of Americans.
"We want to take advantage of this opportunity to energize national support of the Library's mission, enrich our collections and improve our service to Congress and the nation with Bicentennial activities that will carry us with strong momentum into the 21st century," he added.
Bicentennial plans include the following projects:
Gifts to the Nation
The collections of the Library are national in scope and nearly universal in the subjects they cover. In its Gifts to the Nation project, the Library will augment its collections with materials that curators throughout the institution have identified as historically significant items that would add to the depth and diversity of existing collections. In October, the curators' recommendations will be forwarded to the James Madison Council, the Library's private sector advisory group, which will help the Library seek donors to make these acquisitions possible.
A special acquisition project will be to replace the books that have been missing from the 6,487 volumes that Thomas Jefferson sold to the Library in 1815 for $23,950, five months after Congress lost its Library in the Capitol fire set by the British in 1814. (From 1800 until the Jefferson Building opened in 1897, the Library was housed in the Capitol.) Then, in 1851, nearly two-thirds of Jefferson's books were destroyed in another Capitol fire.
Other Gifts to the Nation will endow chairs for visiting scholars and the Library's subject specialists to use the collections and publish studies about them, making the materials' availability to researchers more widely known.
In October 1994, the Library announced that it would offer digitized versions of millions of items, in cooperation with other research institutions, on the Internet. Through the American Memory project of the National Digital Library Program, important and rare materials from the American history collections of the Library and other major repositories are being seen not only by those who can travel to Washington but also by citizens nationwide. This collaborative effort has so far brought more than 1 million items in multiple formats to students, educators, researchers and lifelong learners. Libraries and other institutions throughout the United States are cooperating in this effort by digitizing their American history collections and making them available through American Memory.
The Local Legacies project is designed to involve citizens nationwide in celebrating the Library's Bicentennial -- through their congressional representatives -- by documenting events and activities that have particular cultural importance for local communities. Selected records of participants' activities, preserved in a variety of media, including photographs or sound and video recordings, will become part of the permanent collections of the Library's American Folklife Center in 2000. The Library will share these gifts from across the nation by making them electronically available through its National Digital Library Program.
With the assistance of members of Congress and their staffs, Local Legacies will involve libraries, folklife organizations and other cultural institutions. Creators of selected Local Legacies projects will be invited to Washington for a celebration of their gifts to the nation, to be featured in a Library exhibition scheduled for May 2000. Projects must be completed by November 1999.
Poetry for the Nation
Robert Pinsky's Favorite Poem Project was launched last year during his first term as Poet Laureate when President and Mrs. Clinton read their favorite poems at the White House. Readings for the project have also been held in five other cities, and a new round of readings will begin this fall.
The goal of the project is to make 1,000 audio and 200 video tapes of people from all walks of life reciting their poetry. These tapes will be added to the Library's Archive of Literature on Tape as a permanent record, "at the end of the century, of what we Americans choose, and what we do with our voices and faces, when asked to say aloud a poem that we love," said Mr. Pinsky.
The Favorite Poem Project is supported by the Library's Center for the Book, the New England Foundation for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Arts and Boston University.
Symposia for the Nation
The life of the mind will be explored in a series of symposia, beginning in June 1999, with "Frontiers of the Mind in the Twenty-First Century." Distinguished scholars will discuss significant developments in the past century and will take a look at the challenges ahead. In March 2000, "Accountable Democracy and the Rule of Law" will examine the relationship between democracy and the law in many parts of the world.
On Oct. 23-27, 2000, the Library will host an international conference, "National Libraries of the World: Interpreting the Past, Shaping the Future. The conference will explore the influences shaping national libraries today, including digital technology and the information explosion. Other conferences will highlight the Library's mission to inform the U.S. Congress, the role of copyright in the 21st century, and the importance of acquiring, securing and making accessible the nation's creative legacy.
"Thomas Jefferson: Genius of Liberty" is scheduled to open in April 2000. This exhibition will trace the origins and evolution of Jefferson's thinking and examine the influence of his ideas and interests on American life. The display will include more than 2,400 volumes surviving from Jefferson's 1815 library.
The Library of Congress and the British Library will explore the social, constitutional, cultural, economic and diplomatic links between the United States and Great Britain in an exhibition that will pay special attention to these two national libraries. The exhibition will open in October 1999.
The Center for the Book and the American Library Association are promoting library use everywhere by involving all libraries in local photography contests. National winners will be announced in June 1999.
The U.S. Postal Service will issue a commemorative stamp in honor of the Library's 200th birthday, April 24, 2000. A coin to honor the Library's Bicentennial will also be minted.
A publication, The Library of Congress: 200 Years, will be a comprehensive, illustrated history of the Library, to be published in April 2000 by Yale University Press. The Encyclopedia of the Library of Congress will be an illustrated one-volume reference work containing topical essays and approximately 150 shorter pieces that describe the Library's major collections.
For additional information on participating in these projects, contact the Library of Congress Bicentennial Program Office at (202) 707-2000. Information is also available on the Library's Web site at www.loc.gov/bicentennial/.