Sunday, November 18, 2007

Research Resource: The Library of Congress

If you haven't been to The Library of Congress, get there soon! (Virtually speaking, of course). It's been about two years since I visited the Library in person. But when I was there virtually the other night, I noticed things had changed online.

There are several ways to see the Library online. Let's go first to the American Memory collections. There we'll see collections by topic or we can browse all collections. Just for the thrill of it, let's browse all collections. As we scroll down through some interesting collections, one in particular grabs me. It's "Broadsides ad Ephemera, c. 1600-2000." What's that?

Well, it's described as

28,000 primary-source items dating from the seventeenth century to the present and encompasses key events and eras in American history. The first release of the digitized Printed Ephemera Collection presented more than 7,000 items. This release presents more than 10,000 items. While the broadside format represents the bulk of the collection, there are a significant number of leaflets and some pamphlets. Rich in variety, the collection includes proclamations, advertisements, blank forms, programs, election tickets, catalogs, clippings, timetables, and menus. They capture the everyday activities of ordinary people who participated in the events of nation-building and experienced the growth of the nation from the American Revolution through the Industrial Revolution up to present day.

Here's a German Sunday School card . . . and look, an 1852 ad for a cider mill . . . and here, a list of judges, attorneys, and marshals in the United States, probably from the 1820's. . . a menu from the Fifth Avenue Hotel, New York City, dated October 19, 1903 . . . I could spend all day looking through this stuff! But, much to see, little time!

<----Who are these people?------>
Visit The Library of Congress to find out!

Still in the American Memory collections, we can view photographs, maps and documents from every era and every area of American history. I'm captivated by the collection of Coca-cola commercials over fifty years (one of them was filmed at my high school in the late 1960's), the sheet music collections, the audio former slave narratives, and the nationwide collection of railroad maps. I'll come back to the railroad maps and try to trace the route that Matilda Manson and her son Otis took from Hootenville, Georgia, to Rockdale, Texas, in 1884.

Next is the American Folklife Center with

over three million photographs, manuscripts, audio recordings, and moving images. It consists of documentation of traditional culture from all around the world including the earliest field recordings made in the 1890s on wax cylinder through recordings made using digital technology. It is America's first national archive of traditional life, and one of the oldest and largest of such repositories in the world.

Only some of these are online, but, again, it's a rich collection of collections, including the Veterans History Project and Folk Songs of America. Particularly interesting is the Local Legacies collection, which "includes photographs, sound recordings, videos, newspaper clippings, and more from communities in all 50 states, the trusts, territories, and the District of Columbia. The project was initiated by members of Congress commemorating the Library's Bicentennial."

We next can easily get to the Prints and Photographs Reading Room. And what a joy this is! It's like being a kid in a toy store. There are about a million digital images here!

Next, on to the Library's Webcast page. There are webcasts available on biographies, history, culture, literature, religion, science and much more.

Last month, The Library of Congress announced an agreement with the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) to create the World Digital Library. The announcement said

The World Digital Library will digitize unique and rare materials from libraries and other cultural institutions around the world and make them available for free on the Internet. These materials will include manuscripts, maps, books, musical scores, sound recordings, films, prints and photographs. The objectives of the World Digital Library include promoting international and intercultural understanding, increasing the quantity and diversity of cultural materials on the Internet, and contributing to education and scholarship.

The Library of Congress is America's library. We've only scratched the surface in our quick visit. Check it out and find your favorite parts!


Tim said...


You beat me to it. I was just browsing the internet a week or so ago and clicked a link that took me to the Library of Congress website...I was amazed there was so much there. My favorites were the American Memory portion (still working my way through) and the Veteran's History Project.

I bet this is an under used resource for genealogy folks.


Craig Manson said...

Yes, I think it's overlooked by a lot of folks. American Memory and Veteran's History are my favorites, too.