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Some quick advice for visitors to Washington DC

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Let me begin by saying that nothing in this post is likely to be extraordinary or even unique.  The things I am observing about DC tourists are generally the same thing I observed about them 10 years ago.  But, bad habits persist.

Walk on the left, stand on the right
In DC, people are doing things, like going to work, catching transportation for medical appointments squeezed into busy schedules, and meeting over meals.  So, it’s fair to say that the least amount of tolerance is held for jamming up public transportation.
Obviously, you don’t always know where you’re going–and, that’s fine, Washingtonians vary in how helpful they will be and many are transplants, themselves–but the one thing you can always do is avoid blocking the escalators!  Stand on the right side so people can pass you on the left.  It’s a beautiful system and it works!

You always know someone in DC
Americans always know someone in DC!  Well, sort of.  Your Representative and Senators are here for you, though, and you should contact their offices if you’re heading this way.  They owe you this service whether you like them or not–and they’ll get you tours of the Capitol!  Say, while you’re at it, why don’t you talk a little politics with them, especially if you’re having problems under federal jurisdiction.  You don’t have to, of course, but you should–you’re an American!
If you are visiting from outside the U.S., you probably have an embassy in DC (and other cities, like NYC).  They can help you, too, but of course it varies.

Getting around
Metro has gotten more expensive, so you may want to look into buses and bikes.  Metro buses inside the city are pretty good.  Bikes are also increasingly available.  Bike and Roll offers rental in DC at Union Station and the Old Post Office Pavilion, plus  Arlington, VA.  They also do bike tours of the National Mall as Bike the Sites.  And, there are other options, too.  Just be aware that trying to bring your car into the city is a crap shoot and almost always pricey.

Get away from the shining white marble!
Over the last few years some great and vibrant neighborhoods have been revitalized.  Visit some of these!  Check out Eastern Market, and maybe get some groceries for the trip.  Go to U St., the former Harlem of DC, where the likes of Ella Fitzgerald and Duke Ellington used play.  While there, head over to Ben’s Chili Bowl: great history, great food.  Adams Morgan is a sweet, happening place, with good food and hole-in-the-wall shops.  In the evenings, it has a big nightlife scene; you can even catch some free music in a handful of venues.  And, there are more!

Well, that’s my quickie list of advice for visiting DC.  I myself will be heading into the Library of Congress for some research, today, so if you visit and take a peek into the main reading room I’ll be wearing the bandanna and the Kermit the Frog t-shirt.  Forgive me if I don’t wave–I’m working!

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Historic American Newspapers – Chronicling America (The Library of Congress)

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The Hawaiian gazette. (Honolulu [Oahu, Hawaii]) 1865-1918, June 18, 1912

If you visit the Library of Congress’s (LOC) website and click on, “Historic Newspapers,” you open up a unique tool for teaching American history.  The first thing you will see is a collection of newspaper front pages, “100 Years Ago Today.”   These, of course, offer great potential as a way to scan the current events from a century ago, but it is not the only resource the site affords visitors and educators.

“Chronicling America” is a joint-effort of the Library of Congress and National Endowment for the Humanities to provide access to digitized newspapers and to digitize select others.  The intent is, of course, to provide a digital directory of such resources for American history.  The website explains the project in the following manner:

Chronicling America is a Website providing access to information about historic newspapers and select digitized newspaper pages, and is produced by the National Digital Newspaper Program (NDNP). NDNP, a partnership between the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) and the Library of Congress (LC), is a long-term effort to develop an Internet-based, searchable database of U.S. newspapers with descriptive information and select digitization of historic pages. Supported by NEH, this rich digital resource will be developed and permanently maintained at the Library of Congress. An NEH award program will fund the contribution of content from, eventually, all U.S. states and territories.

To search for particular content, start by clicking on the sidebar’s link, “Recommended Topics,” (location on left upper sidebar, as seen from the screen shot, above) a large alphabetic list of topics is provided.  From here you have two options, 1) find your topic among the listed suggestions, or 2) type in a search term(s) into the box labeled, “Find,” with one of three search areas (1, “News & Current Periodical Pages,” 2, “Researchers Web Pages,” and 3, “All Library of Congress Pages”) provided in the drop down box immediately to the right and see what is provided (see at the top of the screen shot provided, below).

Topics in Chronicling America

 For example, I typed in, “Thomas Edison” in, “News and Current Periodical Pages,” and hit, “GO.”  Now, here, it gets a bit confusing.  While I did not get a direct result for, “Thomas Edison,” the man, as such, I got a topic that is related to Edison: “Early Cinema.”  This could be frustrating for some folks, but the site does function best along the topics it has prepared.  An alternative method is to search, “Thomas Edison” in, “Researchers Web Pages,” and hit, “GO,” giving you research options from the LOC.  Not all of these results will be useful, some will be collections’ items that are not digitized, and others may be only tangentially related, such as the page for the, “Motion Picture and Television Reading Room,” which explains on its main page that:

The Library of Congress began collecting motion pictures in 1893 when Thomas Edison and his brilliant assistant W.K.L. Dickson deposited the Edison Kinetoscopic Records for copyright. However, because of the difficulty of safely storing the flammable nitrate film used at the time, the Library retained only the descriptive material relating to motion pictures. In 1942, recognizing the importance of motion pictures and the need to preserve them as a historical record, the Library began the collection of the films themselves. From 1949 on these included films made for television. Today the Motion Picture, Broadcasting and Recorded Sound Division (MBRS) has responsibility for the acquisition, cataloging and preservation of the motion picture and television collections. The Division operates the Motion Picture and Television Reading Room to provide access and information services to an international community of film and television professionals, archivists, scholars and researchers.

 The last search option from this page is to search, “Thomas Edison” in, “All Library of Congress Pages,” and hit, “GO,” thus providing you with a wide array of materials, including lesson plans, events information and much more.  This brings up some of the same material that the last search provided, but it also includes the LOC biography of Edison and the lesson plan, “Thomas Edison, Electricity and America,” which provides some pretty interesting primary sources, though no newspaper sources (it does include magazine sources, focusing especially on advertising in select magazines).

If you are determined to cover Edison and use the Historic American Newspapers website, you still have a couple of options: 1) direct your students to the page on the 100th anniversary of something newsworthy from Edison’s career, or, if you can’t manage that, 2) use either the, “Early Cinema,” or, “Nikola Tesla,” topics.  Once you select on the topic of choice, you will first get a list of, “Important Dates,” for the topic, then, “Suggested Search Strategies,” and finally, “Sample Articles,” providing links to digitized newspaper articles.

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A Nikolas Tesla article, The Times. (Richmond, Va.) 1890-1903, October 21, 1894, Page 2

The digital copy of the newspaper can be manipulated with controls in the top left corner of the view screen.  In addition to zooming in and out, turning pages, etc., one can also take snapshots with the view screen which can be copied and pasted, downloaded, or printed.  By clicking on the, “Clip Image,” link, the snap shot is opened on a new page or tab with bibliographic information from the newspaper, itself, and the link to the site.

Keep in mind when using old newspaper articles that the rules of journalism developed over time and are relatively recent guidelines, despite the upheaval and threat to such rules created by the web.  As ever, multiple sources will often reveal biases and prejudices among individual publications or authors.

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A paper vs. digital rant

Or, why I love (love!) paper

(Book Autopsies series, Brian Dettmer)

I write a blog.  A blog is short for “web log” and represents a unique forum in communication on the web’s agora.  I do not pay to maintain my blog and you do not pay to read it, but this free-of-cost illusion does not come cheaply.  The energy cost is not free.  The cost to the environment is not green.  And, the publication of the blog is not lasting.  It is convenient and contributes to a much higher output, but it is transient and only accessible via technology.

This post is a bit of rant, really, about the impermanence of our information, today, and it considers the paperless myth and the hidden costs to our society.  As a historian, my work depends on archives and libraries; as a teacher, adopting the Iroquois proverb about taking care unto the seventh generation, I want to see that future historians are able to continue to delve into the past, our past.  Speaking of the seventh generation, it really is a myth that the paper industry will destroy the planet’s green by wiping forests from the face of the earth–quite the opposite, in fact.  And, finally, shunning paper creates a real problem and inequity in our society–even cheap technology costs more to purchase and operate than paper!  Furthermore, our youth and society at large lose something when they do not slow down long enough to take the time to read and write with paper.  It effects our brain and our thinking.

Let me say that I am not a Luddite!  I love technology!!  I just don’t want it to replace my hands and my brain completely.  After all, I do write a blog and very much enjoy the blogs of others!  It is the best way for me to get headline news and stay up to date with many of my hobbies, such as sports, but I’d rather sit down and read a newspaper at the coffee shop to get the depth in coverage.  But, even as I revel in technology’s accessibility, I print out most things I am going to read that are longer than a few paragraphs.

Historians and paper.

(Book Autopsies series, by Brian Dettmer)

Historians need sources!  As a result, they need their paper!  You may well argue that just as methods for producing data evolve, so, too, will the methods of research with digital material.  Certainly, future historians will no doubt include technicians who can perform autopsies on obsolete 3×5 floppies, but nevertheless much will be lost before they have the opportunity.  How many people have sought to take their old Word Perfect files off their IBM 360?  If the files were not printed, they were probably not saved.

As the Paper Because campaign points out, paper just lasts longer!  The Gutenberg Bible still exists today!  Any document that was written out by hand on paper or a paper-like substance, such as velum or papyrus has a shot, because it could be saved.  How else we do we have the writings of Greeks, Romans, Persians, Chinese, Japanese, etc.?

(Book Autopsies series, by Brian Dettmer)

Our personal histories are being lost with each successive computer crash–we do not even print out our photographs anymore!  I was first acquainted with this concept when I met a grad student my freshman year of college in the library studies program who, in working with the university archive, remarked that such archives across the country were finding it increasingly difficult to keep records on college life because e-mail had already begun to replace letters.  This was in the fall of 1999.  I no longer have access to my college e-mails or instant messages.  The e-mails were lost  due to a fatal computer hacking of the college’s computer systems.  The only ones I have,  I printed and stored with my letters from my childhood.  This is everyone’s story.  Think of school assignments that are entirely lost (sometimes before they’ve been handed in) because of a computer glitch or crash.  Some of these not only reflect the student’s hard work, they include personal creations that can’t be recovered.  I won’t speak for others, but in my family we kept stories and projects because they were on paper and were stored in our file or brag book.

Humans will produce an exponentially greater amount of data than ever before (think of all those Tweets and text messages), but will save a negligent amount of it in the upcoming years.  It will distort our memory and legacy.

Print is Green.

(Book Autopsies series, by Brian Dettmer)

You are forgiven for thinking that avoiding paper-use saves trees–it is a very popular theory–but, you are wrong.  It is, in fact, quite the opposite.   The paper industry insures the health of forests.  Without the demand for paper, which is the least wasteful product produced from trees, forest land would be sold off to developers, leveled and become a construction site, confining forest land to preserves.

(Book Autopsies series, by Brian Dettmer)

As an industry and as a final product, paper also conserves energy.  Reading a book, writing a letter, painting a picture or developing a photograph (on paper) costs little or no energy once the bookstationary, and paper has been manufactured.  Furthermore, these industries are leaders in energy-efficiency and recycling.  So, be green!!  Do something good for the earth!  Use paper products!!  (Below, are sites devoted to this concept with cited information.  In fairness, many of them come from the paper industry, but their arguments and sources make for a compelling argument.)

The costs of abandoning paper.

(Book Autopsies series, by Brian Dettmer)

There are two main costs I want to consider: 1) the resulting divide between those who can afford technology and those who cannot; and, 2) the stunting affect excessive technology can have on brain development.  Both of these concepts represent a real loss to society in slightly different ways.

By reducing paper–particularly in the case of the government and its sundry departments–we reduce access for the portion of our population that cannot afford smart phones or computers, nor have access to such technology at school or work.  While libraries offer a slight reprieve, they are not equipped or funded to cover the entire demographic.  The internet is a great resource in democratic society, but when the IRS decides that its tax forms are no longer available at the post office, and that one must go online to get said forms, the internet becomes an unintended class weapon.  The paperless revolution takes on a eugenic-like quality where the poor are once again sacrificed in the name of progress in general and green progress in particular regardless of whether it is intended or accidental.

(Book Autopsies series, by Brian Dettmer)

But, there is more lost.  There is a diminishing return in the development of the young brains.  Sure, we do not experience the same astonishing development that Lynne Truss reported took place in New Zealand.  There, students were permitted to hand in class work and tests in what I like to call text-speak (Eats, Shoots and Leaves).  But, nonetheless, there is evidence to show that students’ brains learn something special when they are forced to do slow reading as opposed to exclusively internet-scanning.  And, again, brains develop more completely when forced to write by hand as opposed to typing everything.  We still, rightly, refer to written works created by the act of writing, whereas we never refer to typed materials or typing–just typos!   (Having said that, my sixth-grader spends useless computer lab hours toodling around on the internet and has yet to rise above chicken-pecking her assignments on the computer!  Surely, if they are going to be on the computers in school anyway, and are assigned large projects that must be typed at least several times a year, then they can take the time to teach them typing!!)

Handwriting has been linked time and again to cognitive development.  This thinking ability, the capability to make connections and to problem-solve, is something I have to guide my students through each semester in community college history classes.  It is frustrating to know that the seventh graders I taught at the all-boys private school were more literate and capable of cognitive thinking then the majority of my students at the college level.  Key practices and training are being missed at earlier levels, stunting development.

Today, students cannot typically process lengthy textual information–even at the collegiate level where they must.  By lengthy, I do not refer in my [collegiate teaching] experience to books or textbook chapters, but long articles.  They seem to struggle to focus on anything even that long.  This is in part symptomatic of little practice, and is exacerbated by confining themselves to reading texts, Tweets and internet pages and posts.

Not only does this inhibit youth development, it retards and diminishes adult brains as well.

***

 

(Book Autopsies series, by Brian Dettmer)

So, hail paper!  Hail books!  Hail slow reading!  Hail paper tax forms and ballots!  Hail writing with a Ticonderoga No. 2 pencil!  Hail photographs printed and framed!  Hail watercolor paintings!  Hail the glorious tactile sensation of fondling a book you are about to savor!  Hail postcards!  Hail archives and primary sources!  Hail newspapers with articles longer than two paragraphs!  Hail printed journals!  Hail diaries!  Hail printed sheets of music and a group of people making music together!  Hail printers and book binders!  Hail memory and legacy!  Hail recycling and forests!  Hail the unhackable!  Hail note-taking!  Hail research papers, theses and dissertations printed and bound!  Hail paper!!

Recommend reading on this subject:

(Feel free to print stuff out and read it at your leisure!!)

Preserving history

This is not a new area of concern for libraries and archives.  In 2006, in an article, “Fragile digital data in danger of fading past history’s reach” (The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, June 7) reported on the problems encountered by the Library of Congress and the National Archive Records and Administration.  Contact the archive at your alma mater or make inquiries at any collection that maintains primary sources and get the scoop!  Librarians are not shy–they’ll tell you!

Keeping green

Start with these sites:

Paper Becausehttp://www.paperbecause.com/

Print Grows Trees: http://printgrowstrees.com/

Choose Printhttp://www.chooseprint.org/

Learning better

On slow reading I recommend, “The art of slow reading” and “Slow Reading: An antidote for a fast world?”.

On the link between handwriting and cognitive development I recommend, “How writing by hand makes kids smarter”, “How handwriting trains the brain” and “Writing by hand helps the brain”.

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Researching at the Library of Congress

(A snow day post…)

A bird's eye view of Capitol Hill and the Library of Congress

If you don’t do research, you should find yourself a project just so you have an excuse to visit the Library of Congress (LOC).  If you have never visited, you should–it is very cool and entertaining, more accessible than many of the Smithsonian museums and better located for other amenities, plus you can spend a half-day or a full-day there and not feel like you have left most of it unseen.  (I posted about the LOC earlier for folks who want to visit:  “The Library of Congress”.)

As great as it is to take the tour and play with the “The Passport to Knowledge” at each of the exhibits, the experience researching at the LOC is awesome!  While the facility exists first and foremost to benefit Congress–think about that for a moment and see if it doesn’t give you a flicker of hope for our country’s future–it is also intended to benefit the country as a vast receptacle of knowledge that will contribute to the greater good for America’s citizens.  So, take advantage!  This is a primer on doing research at the LOC and quite frankly will only scratch the surface because there is so much within its facilities.

The beautiful Thomas Jefferson building (LOC)

Your first stop should probably be the the LOC’s website, where you can get the lay of the land and IM with a librarian to help plan your visit.  Your next stop should be the James Madison building.  Here you get your library card–it typically takes a few minutes.  The building is at the top of the street from the Capitol South Metro station on the Orange and Blue line.  (Union Station is only a few blocks away and is on the Red line.  Transferring takes the most time on Metro, so if you are already on the Red line just go to Union Station.)  The library card station is one floor below the main entrance and both the security guards and the help desk just inside the main entrance can guide you.

The John Adams building (LOC)

There is security because these are federal buildings.  Don’t bring blades–even scissors, although some guards will ignore them I wouldn’t risk it–and travel light.  Put those items that run afoul of metal detectors in your bag or coat so you can quickly run it through the x-ray machines (while this will speed your entrance, it does not necessarily help you with slower tourists who may be in line in front of you–fortunately most of them will be at the Jefferson building).  Your next step is to determine which reading room you need.  The folks who get you your card will give you a quick orientation.  For some projects you have to go to a specific reading room because the materials do not leave that room.  If time is of the essence than you will want to go to the correct room to get your materials quickly.  If you are using a variety of materials, such as books and journals, you have a little more time, or brought some materials to work on with you, go to the Jefferson’s Main Reading Room.  This is also where preparation is so important, because you can pre-request materials online and have them waiting for you in the Main Reading Room or a specific reading room.

A map of the Library of Congress facilities on Capitol Hill (more exist in Maryland!)

Let’s say you do this and are going to the Main Reading Room, you will never work in such a beautiful and, in my opinion, optimal setting.  So, enter at the Madison building, get your card and walk through the tunnels to the Jefferson building so you do not have to do the security drill again and you bypass the tourists–also allows you to avoid the bizarre DC weather.  Once you get to the Jefferson building (follow the signs–it is not quite as obvious as it might be), go to the coat check–this is mandatory!  Here, you will hand over your bags and coats.  My advice is that you wear a layer or two–I typically find that I get cold after sitting there for a while.  Travelling light is important, too, because you will carry everything in by hand or in provided clear plastic bags–which I love and constantly reused at my campus library!  This includes your laptop and its accessories, pencils (pens are not allowed in some reading rooms!!) and notebooks!  Go find a spot to sit and note the seat number.  Then submit your book requests with your seat number at the desk or pick up the resources that are waiting for you.  Assuming you find what you need, but don’t finish with all of your materials you have the option of holding the books for a week and retrieving them from a room off the Main Reading Room.  Remember you can’t take them with you!

The Jefferson's Main Reading room (LOC)

Use your time wisely and be focused about what you want to do when you are there.  I liked having two projects to work on, because  I could switch my focus if I was hitting a block or getting burned out, but I have also been guilty of over-stimulating myself and not making the best use of my time.  While we are talking about the actual practice of researching let me throw in a quick note about note-taking: Be methodical!  Put your bibliographical information at the top of page (be it in Word or your notebook) and write down the page numbers for each note.  This is a good habit to get into–especially if you have previously been stacking and hoarding library books in your room all semester long.  This will make your research process much more useful to you two years later after you’ve completed that project and realize you need something from that research which you did not include in your paper.  You can’t own all the books you need, but you can take good and useful notes, which may be almost as useful.  (The key is being able to do it quickly, which is something I still struggle at . .  maybe from lack of practice while a student!)  Finally, if you are stuck ask for help.  The librarians know there business and if you are in a specific reading room they really know their stuff.  I was amazed at how they could help me even if they were not experts in my field.  They work for you and work out solutions.  (A shot out to librarians everywhere!)

Pulling an all-dayer is possible, of course, but you need to plan carefully.  For food, you can get “off campus” if you need a break and walk a couple blocks down Pennsylvania Avenue (use the researcher’s entrances and exits on the back side of Jefferson–right next to the coat check), but be aware that the area can get a bit crowded and busy if Congress is in session and the weather is nice.  Otherwise pack your lunch and check it in with bag and coat.  There are places to eat and even purchase food in the LOC–so, again preparation–know the location closest to where you are researching.

This should get you started.  The LOC has most books published in this country, many published abroad, journals, newspapers, photos, audio and video archives.  It is a great place to visit and research.  It is worth developing a project just so you can take advantage of the facility–consider it your duty as an American citizen!

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Visiting the Library of Congress

The original access to the main reading room--the youth on the left is learning and the elder on the right is meant to represent wisdom.

The Library of Congress owes the bulk of it’s establishment to the library of Thomas Jefferson, which was a rather special and extensive library at the time.  Sadly for TJ, it also contributed to his bankruptcy and, thus, his need to sell it off.  Congress did him a huge favor when they purchased it.  When it was in his library at Monticello he divided it into three categories: Memory (Historical interests), Imagination (Literature), Research (Scientific interests).  One of the exhibits in the current building, Jefferson (completed in the 1890s) features a replica of his collection–with most of the books being editions from the years he purchased them.  (Many of the original books have been lost as the Library of Congress had some fires in its early years.)

The artistry is most evident from the floor above the main entrance. Above is a skylight made of stained glass surrounded by aluminum--at the time more valuable than gold!

The main building, called the Jefferson building, is a stunning building of marble, mosaics, statuary, gilded gold and stained glass.  50 artists were recruited from the Chicago World’s Fair to the work on a voluntary basis!  At the end of the project there was a $500,000 surplus, out of which $300,000 was paid to these workers (the rest went back into the Treasury).  The building reflects, as our guide explained, the Eurocentrism that was popular in America during the 1809s: historic men from Western Civilization are depicted–particularly those noted for their love of knowledge and learning–and idealized women are also placed throughout representing abstract ideas–they are not historic unless they represent classical deities.

The L.O.C. does restoration of their books and have even found a method by means of a milk-magnesium vapor to whiten pages that have yellowed with age–a process they predict lasts up to 240 years.  Given the importance of some of their collection, such as a Gutenberg Bible, these processes are essential for the upkeep of the library.  The library is first and foremost a collection for Congress, but is open to researchers who may obtain library cards in the neighboring Adams building.  One requests the books and they are brought from their positions to researchers.  While there are various reading rooms–many devoted to a particular field–I have never been able to turn down the opportunity to sit in the main reading room, except when I was researching in the rare books collection, from which books do not leave to any other reading room.

During World War II Hollywood stars took orders and bussed tables for American soldiers, featured on the wall behind Bob Hope.

For the visitor, as opposed to the researcher, there are always exhibits open to the public and tours are available to explain the building and the collection’s history.  Another fun feature for younger audiences (and a few adults, as well) are the Passports to Knowledge that are available from the information desks.  These Passports provide information to guide you through the building but also have a bar-code that can be inserted in to consoles located throughout the exhibits.  By typing in your information, you can download it onto myLOC.gov and access images and information at home.  With exhibits featuring the New World and American culture especially, this is a really cool feature giving you access to what you have seen on your visit.

Past exhibits at the L.O.C. include:

EXPLORING THE AMERICAS:

Northwest Gallery, 2nd Floor, Thomas Jefferson Building

CREATING THE UNITED STATES:

Southwest Pavilion, 2nd Floor, Thomas Jefferson Bldg

THOMAS JEFFERSON’S LIBRARY:

Southwest Pavilion, 2nd Floor, Thomas Jefferson Bldg

HOPE FOR AMERICA: PERFORMANCE, POLITICS AND POP CULTURE:

Bob Hope Gallery of American Entertainment, Ground Floor, Thomas Jefferson Bldg

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