By JOHN Y. COLE
The Local Legacies project is the centerpiece of the Library's Bicentennial commemoration. A forward-looking endeavor, it also has historical roots in the Library's collections and the institution's relationships to Congress and the individual states.
Throughout the 19th century, Congress gradually authorized extensions of the Library's services to the nation -- to federal agencies, the general public, the copyright community, libraries and research institutions, and others. However, the Library did not begin cultivating its relationship with individual states until the 1860s, when Librarian of Congress Ainsworth Rand Spofford (1864-1897) began collecting state legislative documents and newspapers for the Library's collections.
The centralization of U.S. copyright activities at the Library in 1870 enormously increased the Library's holdings about state and local history. In 1876, on the eve of the centennial of the Declaration of Independence, a congressional resolution provided for delivery of historical sketches of U.S. counties and towns to the Library (and to county clerk's offices).
In this century, cooperative projects between the Library and state and community agencies have contributed much to the Library's collections. The field recording projects carried out in the South in the 1930s by the Library's Archive of American Folk Song are a prime example. In 1935 the Library opened a separate reading room for American local history and genealogy. Librarian of Congress Archibald MacLeish (1939-1944) made documenting the American past a prominent part of the institution's mission. One of the first results was the Library's important role in gathering, organizing and preserving materials generated by the national and state New Deal Arts projects of the 1930s.
Particularly since the administration of Librarian of Congress Luther H. Evans (1945-1953), the Library has paid close attention to the states as natural and important constituencies, often making considerable efforts to educate members of Congress about how the Library of Congress serves their state and its citizens. Also since mid-century, the Library and state library agencies have developed cooperative working relationships.
Under the current administration of Librarian of Congress James H. Billington, the Bicentennial's Local Legacies project introduces something new: the gathering of documentary materials from every state for the Library's collections.
Local Legacies is an ambitious project that attempts to celebrate and share with the nation the grassroots creativity of every part of America. The Library has asked each member of Congress to lead an effort to find or create documentation for at least one significant cultural event or tradition that has been important to his or her district or state. Selections from these documentation projects will be sent to the Library of Congress for addition to the collections of the American Folklife Center. Many selections from the Local Legacies project will be digitized and shared electronically through the American Memory Web site of the National Digital Library Program.
The response has been outstanding: Nearly 600 Local Legacies projects covering every state in the union have been registered. All Local Legacies participants and their congressional sponsors will be invited to the Library for a celebratory event in May 2000 that will recognize these grassroots "Gifts to the Nation."
Many state and local libraries will be sites of second-day issue ceremonies for the Library's commemorative stamp, which will be issued by the U.S. Postal Service on April 24, 2000, the Library's 200th birthday (www.loc.gov/bicentennial). Working with the Architect of the Capitol, the Library is making plans to add the state seals of Alaska and Hawaii (the only states not represented) to the interior windows surrounding the Jefferson Building's Main Reading Room. Finally, state and local history collections are being digitized and made available on American Memory. Examples include first-person narratives of California's early years, northern California folk music from the 1930s, and books and local history materials from Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin, ca. 1820-1910.
The State Exhibitions and Their Catalogs, 1945-1972
In 1945 Librarian Evans launched an ambitious series of exhibitions commemorating anniversaries in the histories of various states. Twenty-six states were honored, from the 1945 exhibition celebrating the centennial of Florida's admission to the Union to the exhibition in 1972 that marked the sesquicentennial of Missouri's statehood. Each exhibition drew primarily on the Library's collections and was a selective snapshot and subject guide to the Library's book, manuscript and pictorial materials about the state or territory. For each, the Library produced an illustrated catalog. The 26 catalogs vary in format and often include speeches presented at the exhibition's opening by members of Congress, historians or, in one instance, a Supreme Court Justice (William O. Douglas of Washington state). Several also include portfolios of historical photographs from the Library's collections that were the basis for traveling exhibitions in the state.
Evans saw the exhibitions and their catalogs as an opportunity to share the Library's American holdings with the nation. The catalogs became unique and permanent guides to a state's history, combining short historical explanations with reproductions of original source material. Evans hoped the state exhibitions project would help Americans "come to know what is ours, and what we may become."
The Center for the Book's State Program and Projects
Today there are 36 affiliated state centers, each working with the Center for the Book in the Library of Congress to promote that state's literary heritage and its libraries. Principal state projects include book fairs, book and author awards, summer reading programs and databases with information about a state's authors and forthcoming book and author events.
In 1992 the Center for the Book received a major grant from the Lila Wallace-Reader's Digest Fund for a "Literary Heritage of the States" project that included a traveling exhibition, public programming about literary heritage in 20 states and the creation to date of 11 state or local literary maps. These maps have been added the Library of Congress's collections and are included in the new book Language of the Land: The Library of Congress Book of Literary Maps. The volume was supported in part by the Lila Wallace-Reader's Digest grant.
"Uncle Sam in the Oregon Country," a 30-panel traveling exhibition featuring Library of Congress holdings regarding Oregon's history and culture, was developed in 1989-1990. One of the Center for the Book's first state projects, it is about to become available on the Library's Web site. Most of the materials are being digitized for a new Library of Congress project that highlights the "meeting" of the U.S. and Russian frontiers in the 19th century.
The Montana Heritage Project
Launched in 1995 by the Library's American Folklife Center with funding from the Liz Claiborne and Art Ortenberg Foundation, the Montana Heritage project stimulates Montana high school students to learn about their communities and cultural heritage. School-based documentation projects include the use of primary sources in field work and oral history interviews, and student research projects that are shared with the community. Thus far, 10 Montana communities (Bigfork, Chester, Columbus, Corvallis, Fort Benton, Libby, Roundup, St. Ignatius, Simms and Townsend) have participated.
Mr. Cole is director of the Center for the Book.