Skip Navigation Links The Library of Congress >> Researchers
European Reading Room: European Division, Area Studies
  Home >> Collection Overviews >> Introduction

Overviews of the Collections

Introduction to the European Collections

by Michael Neubert, Reference Librarian


The primary function of the Library of Congress is to serve the Congress. In addition, the Library provides service to government agencies, other libraries, scholars, and the general public. All researchers preparing to come to the Library are strongly encouraged to pursue preliminary exploration in appropriate public, academic, or special libraries, so that they can make efficient use of the Library.

The Library of Congress is primarily a research library, not a lending library, and its collections are in restricted, closed stacks. Because of this role, the Library's lending is restricted to official borrowers or to interlibrary loans, including those made to government agencies. Under certain conditions, the Library lends material from its collections to other libraries for the use of their readers.

The Library's National Reference Service (NRS) provides information by telephone (202-707-5522 and TDD 202-707-4210). NRS directs incoming calls to the appropriate reading room as necessary. Staff from the NRS will also offer research strategy and orientation for researchers planning to come to the Library. After exhausting other resources, researchers can send reference inquiry letters to the National Reference Service which will be forwarded to the appropriate reading room for response if NRS is unable to answer the inquiry. Letters can be addressed as follows:

National Reference Service Library of Congress Washington, DC 20540-5570

To send a letter directly to a specific reading room, substitute its name for "National Reference Service" and delete the last four digits of the zip code.

"The European Collections"

As stated in the introduction, the Library of Congress does not have "European collections" that are housed separately. Upon arrival at the Library, the researcher can begin by consulting the reference librarians of the Humanities and Social Sciences Division in the Library's Main Reading Room. These librarians can assist researchers in learning to use the Library's electronic and card catalogs, the latter especially important for its coverage of older materials. The Main Reading room also has a reference collection of approximately 50,000 volumes. If a question requires specialized language skills, then the researcher may consult with a librarian or specialist in the European or Hispanic Reading Rooms. These reading rooms have their own respective reference collections for use of researchers. It may also be useful to visit the Newspaper & Current Periodicals Reading Room, which has custody of current periodicals in most European languages (the exception is that the European Reading Room has custody of current Slavic and Baltic language titles).

For materials other than books in the general collection and periodicals, the researcher must visit one of the other reading rooms of the Library. Generally these reading rooms have custody of materials based on the format of the material rather than by geographic origin. Thus prints are in the Prints and Photographs Reading Room, music scores are in the Performing Arts Reading Room, and so on (one of the primary tasks of a reference librarian at the Library in assisting a researcher is to know where to refer him or her within this large and complex library). Each reading room offers finding aids, bibliographies and other reference materials in addition to the main computer catalog.

The following is a list of links to the reading rooms and special collections centers most likely to be of interest to a researcher with an interest in Europe:

Geography and Map Reading Room
Hebraic Section

Hispanic Reading Room
Law Library Reading Room
Local History and Genealogy Reading Room
Main Reading Room
Manuscript Reading Room
Microform Reading Room
Motion Picture and Television Reading Room
Newspaper and Current Periodical Reading Room
Performing Arts Reading Room
Prints and Photographs Reading Room
Rare Book and Special Collections Reading Room
Recorded Sound Reference Center
Science Reading Room

  Top of Page Top of Page
  Home >> Collection Overviews >> Introduction
  The Library of Congress >> Researchers
  September 7, 2011
Legal | External Link Disclaimer

Contact Us:  
Ask a Librarian