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May2009
HOME It’s (Not) a Small World After All Message in a Bottle An Architecture of Plurality Linked By Law Totally YouTubular Languages on Loan What Started as a Haven . . . Became a Home
Totally YouTubular

The Library of Congress has gone viral—and no, that doesn’t mean it has caught a cold with all systems on lockdown. Quite the contrary–the venerable institution is more out there for the world to see than ever before. Information on Library news and events is available through Twitter, more than 30 RSS and e-mail news alert services, and one of the first blogs from a federal agency.

Exterior view. View of the roof, dome, and cupola. Library of Congress Thomas Jefferson Building, Washington, D.C. 2007 Eugene Sandow, full-length portrait, standing, leaning on column, facing left, wearing wrestling leotard, Roman sandals, and six-pointed-star pendant. 1894

In addition to these Web 2.0 enterprises, the Library has begun sharing content from its vast video collections on the YouTube web service as part of a continuing initiative to make its incomparable treasures more widely accessible to a broad audience.

A channel on the video service is devoted to Library content, including lectures with authors and scholars and film presentations from the American Memory collections.

Not surprisingly, videos of Library content already exist on YouTube. From a behind-the-scenes look at the Harry Houdini collection with Penn and Teller and a Jimmy Buffet concert to fan-made videos of Thomas Jefferson Building tours and compilations of assets already available on the Library’s website, unofficial presentations are already popular.

Official Library YouTube offerings include films from the Thomas Edison studio. Beginning in the late 1880s, Edison's labs not only built the equipment for filming and projecting films but also produced popular content for the new medium. These films, more than 100 years old, are valuable not only for historical purposes but also for their unique subject matter. Boxing cats anyone? Or how about the muscle pageantry of Sandow, “the father of modern bodybuilding?” Another highlight is the first movie ever made, a recording of a sneeze, no less. Gesundheit!

Classic industrial films from the Westinghouse Works, produced in April-May 1904, are also available on the Library’s YouTube channel. The companies that made up the Westinghouse Works prided themselves on being modern and progressive. This opinion is probably what led them to allow motion pictures to be taken of the working conditions in these plants. Most prominently featured are the Westinghouse Air Brake Company, the Westinghouse Electric and Manufacturing Company and the Westinghouse Machine Company.

In fact, the Library’s Motion Picture, Broadcasting and Recorded Sound Division has remastered both of these collections for YouTube viewing. They are also available at an even higher resolution on the Library’s site, further supporting the institution’s goal of being the mint repository of the nation’s history.

Additionally, author talks from the National Book Festival and the Library’s Books & Beyond program, lectures given by John W. Kluge Center scholars and collection presentations given by Library curators are also featured.

The Library began a groundbreaking pilot project with the popular Flickr photo-sharing service in 2008, loading 3,100 historic photos to start and an additional 50 photos each week. The overwhelmingly positive response from the Flickr user community not only brought broad public awareness to the Library's existing online collection of more than one million prints and photos but also sparked creative interaction with them, as users helped provide Library curators with new information on photos with limited descriptions through public review and tagging.

A Flickr initiative called The Commons was introduced with the Library’s project launch, and a growing number of libraries, museums and archives have since started their own accounts within the Commons framework. The Library has been followed by 22 additional institutions from the United States, Australia, United Kingdom, Canada, France, Portugal, and the Netherlands that are sharing selections from their photo archives and inviting the public to contribute information.


A. Exterior view. View of the roof, dome, and cupola. Library of Congress Thomas Jefferson Building, Washington, D.C. 2007. Prints and Photographs Division. Reproduction Information: Reproduction No.: LC-DIG-highsm-01918 (original digital file); Call No: LOT 13860 [item] (ONLINE) [P&P]

B. Eugene Sandow, full-length portrait, standing, leaning on column, facing left, wearing wrestling leotard, Roman sandals, and six-pointed-star pendant. 1894. Prints and Photographs. Reproduction Information: Reproduction No.: LC-USZ62-104521 (b&w film copy neg.); Call No.: LOT 12388 <item> [P&P]