By SHERRY LEVY-REINER
Expressing hopes that the Library of Congress will continue to uphold "the nobility of scholarship" as integral to maintaining democratic institutions, representatives of a dozen professional societies and research organizations met March 19 to explore ways in which the Library might better serve scholars and researchers.
Carolyn T. Brown, acting director of Area Studies Collections, convened the daylong meeting to discuss current initiatives and to hear representatives' suggestions about what role the Library should play in 21st century scholarship. "We are working to establish a community of shared values for those who come to use our resources," explained Ms. Brown, "and we are aware of our growing 'virtual community.' Our priority is to identify the special ways in which the Library can interact with both constituencies."
Because scholarly societies and research institutions are interested in encouraging future generations of scholars, they see a role for the Library in demonstrating, said one meeting participant, "the integral role of scholarship in a free and democratic society."
The Library can serve as a home institution for independent scholars by offering for use its incomparable collections.
At a time when scholarship is crossing and blurring traditional disciplinary boundaries, the Library, because of the breadth of its collections, can support collaborative projects such as the Handbook of Latin American Studies. A bibliography of 5,000 works selected and annotated annually by a network of more than 130 academics, the Handbook, which is edited by Dolores Martin of the Hispanic Division, appears on the Internet in draft form, making it an accessible focal point for worldwide scholarly attention and cooperation.
The attendees also urged the Library to play a leadership role in helping users evaluate materials that are on the Internet. The Library has traditionally compiled bibliographies in many subject areas and thus could offer similar tools to lead patrons to important Web sites. The nature of electronic scholarship, which enables researchers to share information rapidly across great distances, provides innumerable opportunities for the Library to help evaluate resources.
While more information is available electronically, meeting participants emphasized the importance of preserving primary documents and ensuring their accessibility for researchers who need to work with them.
Although an image is important to someone studying the content of a document, the original's paper or watermark, for example, may be of equal importance to someone trying to date the document. The representatives of the scholarly organizations, who praised the Library's role in developing preservation methods, expressed the hope that the institution would continue to share its knowledge with others.
In addition to being regarded for its collections, the Library, said Ms. Brown, garners considerable respect from those in and out of academe for its scholarly initiatives. "We must ensure, as the Library begins its third century of service to our nation, that we continue to deserve that high degree of respect."
Ms. Levy-Reiner is project coordinator in the Office of Scholarly Programs.