Library of Congress

[Main Reading Room. Interior of dome displaying half of the Evolution of Civilizations mural in collar. Library of Congress Thomas Jefferson Building, Washington, D.C.]

This week I’m attending a week-long course on federal libraries. Each day our class will visit 1-2 federal libraries and learn about their mission and resources. Today, we visited the Library of Congress (LOC). In addition to seeing familiar faces at the Visitors’ Services Office, I met librarians from a variety of departments who were working on so many different aspects of librarianship.

Our day began with a tour of the Jefferson building and I was  reminded that both the building’s architecture celebrates knowledge, while its namesake, Thomas Jefferson, gave the the LOC its collection development mission. As there may be no area of knowledge that Congress would not need to refer and some point or another, the LOC would need a collection that was far reaching in all subject areas. The Library’s challenge to both live up to the needs of Congress and the expectations of the American people were represented in the diversity of LOC departments and projects.

The LOC’s social media initiatives is representative of how the LOC is harnessing the rapid proliferation and exponential growth of information. Crowdsourcing and social media analytics are endeavors that are found in both competitive intelligence and intelligence analysis communities. I also appreciated the strategic process that the LOC has put into place before implementing institutional social media accounts. Too often libraries rush into adopting these tools with little thought on what types of engagement and outreach efforts they are looking to achieve.

I had anticipated learning more about how librarians could be greater integrated into the role of analyst when discussing the Congressional Research Services’ (CRS) analysts. However, it seems that CRS’s position is more representative of the traditional divide between analysts and librarians (a recent presentation by analyst/librarian Edna Reid presents one way to begin blurring that distinction). It also brought to mind the differing approaches to information sharing that CRS and the Government Accountability Office (GAO) have taken with regards to their reports (see in particular: The Campaign for Online Access).

The broadening of the definition of “librarian” and, to be sure, the OPM 1400 series, remains an important goal for new librarians. Not only are the knowledge economy jobs found in the IT and other sectors, but librarians need to know how to speak the language, like HTML code, with their IT counterparts. Right after our LOC sessions, I had a class on basic HTML coding, which included a discussion on why librarians need to learn how to code (even in the most basic terms) and it was very easy to point out the real-life experiences that had been shared earlier in the day.

Without doubt, it was finally hearing the LOC’s dual missions explained through their strategic plan that resonated with me the most. The LOC’s dual mission to support Congress (or civil servants in general), while benefitting the American public, so clearly represents what federal librarianship is all about.

This is a revised post of a daily report prepared for a Federal Library Resources Institute course and is part of a series of posts on federal libraries.

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