By JOHN Y. COLE
During a news conference on Sept. 14, 1987, the day he was sworn in as the 13th Librarian of Congress, Dr. Billington described a goal that has become a one of the underlying themes of the Library's Bicentennial in 2000: celebrating the life of the mind.
Such celebrations, Dr. Billington noted, were something "that a free people needed to do." The United States has the best system of public and research libraries in the world. This represents a "tremendous" accomplishment that should be celebrated, honored and developed, he said. (See LC Information Bulletin, Oct. 26, 1987).
The Bicentennial theme of "Libraries, Creativity, Liberty" emphasizes the unique role that the Library of Congress and all libraries play in preserving the knowledge of the past and in promoting the exchange of ideas in a free society. The life of the mind is being celebrated through events that highlight scholarship and the exchange of ideas, particularly symposia and exhibitions, and through educational outreach projects that reach into every corner of the country.
Bicentennial Symposia, Exhibitions and Educational Projects
"Frontiers of the Mind in the 21st Century," the first in a series of Bicentennial symposia, was held on June 15-17. Fifty scholars representing 24 fields of knowledge discussed the most important accomplishments in the current century while making some predictions for the 21st (see LC Information Bulletin, July and August 1999). One of the largest and most ambitious symposia ever hosted by the Library, the meeting was made possible through the generosity of the American Academy of Achievement and the Heinz Foundation. The proceedings, which will be published by Harvard University Press next year, are available online through the end of this year through "The Library Today" section of the Library's Web site (www.loc.gov/today).
Other Bicentennial symposia next year include: "Informing the Congress and the Nation, Feb. 29-March 1; "Democracy and the Rule of Law in a Changing World Order," March 6-10; "Poetry in America: Performance and Publication in the 19th and 20th Centuries," April 3-4; "National Libraries of the World: Interpreting the Past, Shaping the Future," Oct. 23-26; "Guarding the Nation's Heritage: Preservation and Security," Oct. 30-31.
The first Bicentennial exhibition was "The Work of Charles and Ray Eames: A Legacy of Invention," May 20-Sept. 4, 1999. (This traveling exhibition is now on view at the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum in New York until Jan. 9, 2000. For an overview and complete schedule of this exhibition, visit www.loc.gov/exhibits/eames/overview.html.)
"John Bull and Uncle Sam: Four Centuries of British-American Relations" will be on display at the Library from Nov. 17, 1999-March 4, 2000 (see story this issue).
Two other Bicentennial exhibitions will open on April 24, 2000, the day of the Library's 200th birthday: "Thomas Jefferson: Genius of Liberty" (through Oct. 31), and "The Wizard of Oz: An American Fairy Tale (through Sept. 23). The concepts behind these exhibitions and many of their artifacts will be shared through publications and on the Library's Web site (www.loc.gov).
The National Digital Library (NDL) Program, in cooperation with other institutions, by the end of 2000 will make available on the Library's Web site approximately 5 million items of unique American history materials. Through its Learning Page, the NDL Program is providing educational resources to teachers, librarians and students.
The Local Legacies project documents America's grassroots heritage in a project cosponsored with the U.S. Congress. Local customs, crafts and celebrations are being preserved for local library and museum collections, as well as for the national collections of the Library of Congress.
The Favorite Poem Project is making audio and visual recordings of Americans across the country saying their favorite poems. These recordings will become part of the collections of the Library of Congress and other libraries. Other cooperative projects with libraries include "Beyond Words: Celebrating America's Libraries," a national photography contest and future traveling exhibition cosponsored with the American Library Association, and second-day issue ceremonies at state libraries for the Library's commemorative postage stamp, which will be issued on April 24, 2000.
Further information about these and other Bicentennial projects is available on the Library's Bicentennial Web site: www.loc.gov/bicentennial.
Scholarly and Educational Outreach at the Library: Some Milestones
The opening of the Jefferson Building on Nov. 1, 1897, marked the beginning of the Library's public role. Called by many the "The Book Palace of the American People," it was a glorious showplace. Through its art, architecture and inscriptions it enshrined and celebrated the universality of knowledge and the life of the mind. On Nov. 25, 1897, during the Thanksgiving holiday, more than 4,700 visitors toured and admired the new structure.
Under Librarian of Congress Herbert Putnam (1899-1939), the Library's mission and programs took on a new public dimension. Putnam nationalized the institution's collections and services, beginning service to other libraries and gathering new collections for use by scholars. In December 1901, he told the American Historical Association (AHA) that a national library was "a collection universal in scope which has a duty to the country as a whole" and that its prime duty was to scholarship. A new publishing effort was part of his plan of sharing the Library's resources with the nation. It included printed catalog cards, guides to the collections, union lists, catalogs and other specialized publications. In 1904 the Library participated in the Louisiana Purchase Exposition, or "World's Fair," in St. Louis.
In the mid-1920s, Putnam began obtaining private funding for Library programs. A substantial portion of the new funds supported scholarly activity, including "chairs" to supplement the salaries of division chiefs and, in the 1930s, outside consultants familiar with the major fields of learning. These specialists were needed, he felt, to help in collection development, in perfecting what he called "the technical apparatus" and in assisting readers in use of the collections. When Putnam retired in 1939, the major accolades came from the AHA and the American Council of Learned Societies.
Librarian of Congress Archibald MacLeish (1939-1944) established the Library's exhibition program in 1942. The next year he launched the Library's Information Bulletin and its Quarterly Journal of Current Acquisitions. On April 13, 1943, on the occasion of the dedication of the Thomas Jefferson Memorial, he hosted and chaired in his office what must have been one of the first symposia held at the Library. The other participants were Julian Boyd, librarian of Princeton University; author Van Wyck Brooks; Henry Seidel Canby, editor of the Saturday Review of Literature; Malcolm Cowley, editor the New Republic; Harvard professor Howard Mumford Jones; Fiske Kimball, director of the Philadelphia Museum of Art; columnist Walter Lippmann; Dumas Malone, historian and director of Harvard University Press; the Library's David C. Mearns; historian Allan Nevins of Columbia University; and Wendell Willkie.
In subsequent decades, educational outreach became part of the Library's administrative structure through the creation of small, specialized "centers" within the institution, e.g., the Children's Literature Center (1962), the American Folklife Center (1976) and the Center for the Book (1977).
Since 1993 the Library has published, in collaboration with outside organizations, several of the most important scholarly books in its history. Each of these attractive works, based on the Library's exhibitions, collections or buildings, has been supported by private funds from the Madison Council or other individuals or organizations. Through co-publishing or related distribution arrangements each of these "coffee-table" books is available in bookstores nationwide. Four notable examples are: Rome Reborn: The Vatican Library and Renaissance Culture (1993), ed. by Anthony Grafton; Creating French Culture: Treasures from the Bibliothèque Nationale de France (1995), ed. by Marie-Helene Tesniere and Prosser Gifford; Eyes of the Nation: A Visual History of the United States (1997), ed. by Vincent Virga and curators of the Library of Congress; and The Library of Congress: The Art and Architecture of the Thomas Jefferson Building (1997), ed. by Henry Hope Reed and John Y. Cole.
Finally, with private funds and congressional appropriations, the Library made its bibliographic records and items from its American historical collections available electronically beginning in 1994. The subsequent rapid development of the Library's Web site, through which the institution now freely shares selected collections, bibliographic data and information about its services and programs, is perhaps the most wide-reaching outreach development of all.
Mr. Cole is co-chair of the Bicentennial Steering Committee and director of the Center for the Book.