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Reviewed by:
  • Encyclopedia of the Library of Congress: For Congress, the Nation & the World
  • Robert S. Martin
Encyclopedia of the Library of Congress: For Congress, the Nation & the World. Edited by John Y. Cole and Jane Aikin . Washington, D.C.: Library of Congress, 2005. 608 pp. $125.00. ISBN 0-89059-971-8.

This volume grew out of the Library of Congress's preparations for its bicentennial celebrations in 2000, when the editors perceived a need for a one-volume comprehensive resource on the history of the Library. That goal proved elusive, and the editors instead opted to produce this rather curious book, which mixes historical overview articles on various aspects of the Library with detailed entries on specific collections, programs, and librarians along with copious photographs and statistical tables. Their goal, in the words of the editors, is "to provide a general audience with insights into the historical development of the Library's principal collections, major functions, buildings, and major administrative units" (xxix). The result is not an encyclopedia in a technical sense. Instead, it is a volume combining aspects of the historical narrative, the reference resource, and the coffee-table book.

The volume is divided into four parts. Part 1 presents fourteen essays that provide an historical overview of facets of the Library such as the Congressional Research Service, the Copyright Office, and the National Library Services for the Blind and Physically Handicapped as well as topical discussions of the Library of Congress and scholarship and the Library of Congress and American librarianship. Two essays explore the relationship between the Library and two other related federal agencies, the National Archives and the Smithsonian Institution. Two essays explore the future rather than the past in the form of the Library's digital resources and plans for the digital future. John Cole's essay, providing a short history of the Library of Congress from its inception to the present, is a concise and readable introduction to the entire volume. An essay on the Library of Congress in fiction and film adds a touch of whimsy.

Part 2 is the heart of the volume and the actual encyclopedia. It consists of more than seventy-five alphabetically arranged articles on specific subjects. The articles range from descriptions of the divisions, services, and collections of the Library (e.g., the American Folklife Center, the Hispanic Division, the Geography and Map Division) to biographical articles on the fourteen Librarians of Congress to thematic treatments of topics such as acquisitions, cataloging, classification, employees and employment, and the National Union Catalog. Other articles describe each of the three buildings of the Library, explore the roles of Thomas Jefferson and James Madison in the history of the Library, and recount events in the life of the Library, including the Library's bicentennial and the National Book Festival. Articles range from long and detailed (sixteen pages on the Asian Division and collections; thirteen pages on preservation and conservation) to extremely brief [End Page 517] and cursory (two short paragraphs on the Office of the Librarian). Many articles are illustrated with black-and-white photographs.

Part 3 comprises five appendices listing senior officials of the Library throughout its history and statistical tables on appropriations, growth of the collections, chairmen of the relevant congressional committees, and major gifts and endowments over the Library's history. Part 4 is a brief bibliography of additional sources. The work is rounded out by a preface and introduction as well as acknowledgments and a list of contributors. The volume includes a fifteen-page portfolio of color photographs of the Thomas Jefferson Building. As an architectural landmark that ranks as one of the grandest public spaces in the United States and serves as an emblem of the Library's role to preserve and transmit knowledge and culture, the Jefferson Building certainly merits such treatment.

The editors and the contributors possess sterling qualifications to produce this work. John Cole and Jane Aiken are the preeminent active historians of the Library of Congress. Cole himself has been a participant in or witness to most of the developments of the past thirty or more years. Jane Aiken's definitive book on the Herbert Putnam years—covering half of...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2166-3033
Print ISSN
2164-8034
Pages
pp. 517-519
Launched on MUSE
2006-12-18
Open Access
No
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