I’ve never been to the Library of Congress. The idea appeals beyond the massive size and scope of the collections they have – (the research one can do!) – and the history one can lose one’s self in during a visit, hopefully, prolonged.
In doing a baseball book, I know there are plenty of resources for books and images. The images that are older (sans copyright) are a special treat to find. To shape a story about the history of the sport, you have to include the quirky past to understand how it evolved into the sport where $1.5 Billion stadiums rise out of dirt to pay homage to men in tight uniforms. (And to think guys would play for free – nearly – back in the 1850-1860’s.)
The Library of Congress though holds much more than the baseball game.
It holds our nation’s treasured past, its foilables, its great expansion, and its bloodiest moments. The dreams of ordinary citizens, the lines of poets and playwrights and the hallowed words of Presidents long since gone. It is the written essence of our country – that which Thomas Jefferson sold his vast personal collection of books to keep alive after the War of 1812. (The Brits burned down the original Library of Congress.)
Jefferson’s collection doubled the Library’s existing volumes to that date. He offered: “I do not know that it contains any branch of science which Congress would wish to exclude from this collection . . . there is in fact no subject to which a member of Congress may not have occasion to refer.”
Jefferson, who would pass away in serious indebtness ($200,000+ in then 1826 dollars), was a knowledge hound. Much more than most of our politicians and scholars are even in today’s information age. He read, in Latin, the classics. Adored Marcus Tullius Cicero (106-43 B.C.) a Roman philosopher, orator, and statesman. Indeed, he saw a usage for all books – and organized them by subject matter – thus paving the way for various classification systems utilized by the Library of Congress, and also, under the Dewey Decimal System.
Researchers owe their debts to Jefferson for adding his collection to the Library, his understanding of how knowledge is organized, and later, the ability to find millions of volumes in this Library today. While I have never been to Library of Congress , the libraries in America are stocked with the impetuses of Jefferson (and Franklin). They themselves are National Treasures – but their ideas gave us the most tangible assets we need to hold steadfast in our most trying times.
(This Post was written from the Lowell Public Library, Lowell, Indiana.)