By MEG SMITH
Members of the House and the Senate are celebrating the Library of Congress's Bicentennial in 2000 with nearly 900 birthday presents.
These members have been working with their constituents to document "Local Legacies," traditions that represent American culture at the end of the 20th century. Their efforts have resulted in a vast array of projects created by amateurs and professional historians who are committed to preserving the national heritage. The projects were selected by Congress members to be a part of Local Legacies, the Library's premier Bicentennial project.
According to project coordinator Peter Bartis, this is a chance for Americans to define their heritage for future scholars and historians. "These are grassroots projects ... representing a cross section of a community's activities," he said.
For the purposes of the project, a Local Legacy is defined as a traditional activity, event or area of creativity that merits being documented for future generations. Local Legacies might include arts, crafts or customs; signature events such as a rodeo, powwow, auction, market-day celebration, parade, procession or festival; or individuals performing traditional music or dance or working at trades.
Taken together, the selected projects will contribute to a "scrapbook" of American life, to be permanently archived at the Library of Congress in its American Folklife Center.
So far, more than 300 members of Congress have selected projects from their home states or districts. "We're generating a lot of excitement," said Peter Seligman, project liaison for districts in the East Coast. "People are appreciative of their heritage and eager to share it with the Library. It encompasses all the positive things about patriotism."
The project liaisons offer advice on designing the projects and focusing and narrowing the subjects. They also encourage participants, in addition to sending a selection of their documentation to the Library of Congress, to donate all of the documentation materials to their local libraries, to create a record within their communities.
Some of the material will be shared electronically with the nation and the world through the National Digital Library Program. A special ceremony will be held on May 23, 2000, for all participants and members of Congress to celebrate their gifts to the nation. A complete list of the projects currently registered can be seen at www.loc.gov/bicentennial/legacies.html.
Documentaries of the people who affect everyday lives have struck a chord among the senators and representatives who selected projects. Members of Congress are enthusiastic about the project and have attended Local Legacies events, conducted related news conferences and issued statements to the media in support of the project.
For example, among the bluegrass pastures and whitewashed fences of Kentucky's horse country, a project sponsored by Rep. Ernest Fletcher (R-Ky.) aims to photograph the unsung employees and farm buildings that form the foundation of America's racehorse industry.
Project coordinators will combine photographs and interviews from the grooms, trainers and barn builders of today with historical images and articles from a local magazine that covers the industry. The final project will capture the beauty and traditions behind an American sports dynasty.
In Massachusetts, Rep. Michael Capuano (D) is sponsoring a project devoted to Fenway Park, the oldest major league baseball park in the country. Interviews with the organist, scoreboard operator, ushers, groundskeepers, peanut vendors, broadcasters, equipment managers and bat boys will document the club's unique rituals, traditions and history and reveal the continuing importance of baseball in American life.
In addition to sports, many projects feature another staple of American life: festivals.
Sen. Joseph R. Biden (D-Del.) selected a project honoring the Sussex County Return Day, featuring a bipartisan pageant in which winners and losers in county elections ride together in a carriage after election results are announced and participate in a 207-year-old ritual in which they literally bury the hatchet.
House Majority Leader Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) nominated four projects from his district, including a documentary of the 100th annual Sandwich Fair in DeKalb County. The oldest continuously held fair in the Midwest occurs after Labor Day and features an agricultural theme. Today it is the largest fair in Illinois.
West Coast project liaison Evie McCleaf said, the projects are "really going to add depth and detail to the collections in the American Folklife Center. Some of the projects are documenting portions of the local culture that are dying away."
Local Legacies is an unprecedented opportunity for the American people to directly contribute material to the Library's collections. "The purpose is to get as many people as possible involved in the Library's Bicentennial," Mr. Bartis said.
The chance to contribute to the historical record is the primary motivation for a lot of the participants. "It's become evident to us that one of the most important parts of this project for the participants is that their work will be housed in the Library of Congress," he said. "Local Legacies showcases the important role of the Library in preserving the nation's cultural life."
Completed projects are due at the Library of Congress in December. For information about the Local Legacies project, including how to participate, contact the Library's Bicentennial Program Office at (202) 707-2000; toll-free (800) 707-7145; e-mail [email protected]; or fax (202) 707-7440.
Ms. Smith is a former intern in the Library's Public Affairs Office.