By JOHN Y. COLE
"Libraries, Creativity, Liberty," the theme of the Library's Bicentennial, recognizes that all libraries promote creativity.
By maintaining and sharing their collections, encouraging research and raising awareness about books and other materials, libraries play a central role in the development of American creativity. As the nation's largest and most diverse library, which will be 200 on April 24, 2000 (www.loc.gov/bicentennial), the Library of Congress performs all of these functions.
The Library of Congress, however, also performs a unique national role in preserving and promoting creativity: It is the official copyright agency of the United States. In Article I, Section 8 of the U.S. Constitution, the Founding Fathers gave Congress the power "To promote the Progress of Science and the Useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries." In 1790, 10 years before the Library of Congress was created, Congress approved the copyright law. In 1870 the entire "copyright business" of registration and deposit was transferred from the federal courts to the Library. The law required all authors, poets, artists, composers and map makers to deposit in the Library two copies of every book, pamphlet, map, print and piece of music registered in the United States. The Library of Congress thus acquired not only a thorough and relatively inexpensive means of building a national collection, but also a new constituency: authors, musicians, artists and other creators who needed the protection of copyright.
Creativity and Projects of the Library's Bicentennial
On Oct. 6, 1997, Dr. Billington announced the overall Bicentennial goal: "to inspire creativity in the century ahead by stimulating public use of the Library of Congress and libraries everywhere." Many of our Bicentennial events explore the creative spirit.
"The Work of Charles and Ray Eames: A Legacy of Invention," which was seen at the Library from May 20 through Sept. 4, celebrated American creativity. The Eameses changed the face of America with their inventions and innovative ideas and designs. It will travel next to the Cooper-Hewitt Design Museum in New York, where it will be on display from Oct. 12 through Jan. 9, 2000.
Opening on April 24, 2000, "The Wizard of Oz: An American Fairy Tale," marks the centennial of L. Frank Baum's The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. Using the Library's extensive collection of first editions, artifacts and films, the exhibition will examine the creation of this timeless American classic and trace its rapid and enduring success. Copyright deposits related to The Wizard of Oz will form the core of this exhibition, which also includes Baum's original copyright application.
"I Hear America Singing," a three-year Bicentennial series of concerts, recordings and educational programs, will be launched by the Library's Music Division beginning this October. Taking its title from Walt Whitman's poem "I Hear America Singing," the series will explore the breadth and significance of America's musical heritage from Colonial days to the end of the 20th century. The series will emphasize the American musical experience as documented in the Library's collections of popular song, sacred music, band music, choral music, chamber music, folk music, "America's Voice: Rhythm & Blues, Jazz, Country, Rock & Roll to Rap," and "Music and Multimedia: The Widening World."
Poet Laureate Robert Pinsky's Favorite Poem project was launched in April 1998 with poetry readings in New York, Washington, Boston, St. Louis and Los Angeles. The project will create an audio and video archives of Americans of all ages, backgrounds and walks of life saying their favorite poems. One thousand audio and 200 video tapes will be presented to the Library's Archive of Recorded Poetry and Literature. The first tapes will be presented on April 3-4 as part of the Bicentennial symposium "Poetry and the American People." Participants will include Mr. Pinsky and three other poets, all named by Dr. Billington as special consultants during the Bicentennial year: Rita Dove, W.S. Merwin and Louise Glück.
Copyright, Music and Literary Milestones
The Library's "copyright hero" is Ainsworth Rand Spofford, Librarian of Congress from 1864 to 1897. On April 9, 1870, when the Library was still in the U.S. Capitol building, Spofford wrote a lengthy letter to Rep. Thomas A. Jenckes of Rhode Island, outlining "some leading reasons why the transfer of the entire copyright business to the Library of Congress would promote the public interest." Previously, U.S. District Courts carried out the copyright function; there was no single Copyright Office.
Jenckes agreed and attached the proposal to a bill revising the patent laws. Jenckes's bill passed Congress easily, and when it was signed into law by President Grant on July 8, 1870, the Library of Congress became the first central agency for copyright registration and for the custody of copyright deposits in the United States.
By 1897, when the Library moved from the Capitol into its new building, approximately 400,000 music items had been added to its collections, mostly as copyright deposits. Today the Library's music archives is the largest in the world, numbering close to 8 million items, including musical scores, manuscripts of commissioned works and recordings of musical performances. In 1925, on the recommendation of Herbert Putnam, Librarian of Congress from 1899 to 1939, Congress accepted a substantial gift from Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge for the construction of an auditorium that would be dedicated to the performance of chamber music. This gift expanded the Music Division's role into the first national venue for creating, presenting and preserving chamber music. Other kinds of performances, the commissioning of works and the broadcasting of concerts soon followed, establishing a model for other and later forms of Library of Congress outreach.
Poet and writer Archibald MacLeish, Librarian of Congress in 1939-1944, established the Library's exhibitions program and made major strides in establishing a public presence and role for the institution. In particular, he used his personal contacts to create new and enduring relationships between the Library and the world of letters -- scholars, writers and poets. His many accomplishments included the inauguration of a series of readings by distinguished American poets (1941), the establishment of the Archive of Hispanic Literature on Tape (1942) and, in 1943, the creation of the consultantship in poetry (now called Poet Laureate) and the Archive of Recorded Poetry and Literature.
As the Library heads toward its third century, it looks forward to playing a major role in fostering American creativity in the third millennium.
John Cole is co-chair of the Library's Bicentennial Steering Committee and director of the Center for the Book.