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An Interview with Anna Bryan, Rare Book Cataloger

This week’s interview is with Anna Bryan, cataloger in the Rare Materials Section, U.S./Anglo Division, Acquisitions and Bibliographic Access at the Library of Congress.

Describe your background.

I am one of those rare DC natives, born at George Washington University Hospital, lived on a farm in Oxon Hill, then moved to Hyattsville when I was 7. My father was a journalism professor at the University of Maryland (where he had Connie Chung as a student in Beginning Reporting) and my mother was a medical doctor (a pathologist).

Photo Credit: Donna Sokol

Photo Credit: Donna Sokol

What is your academic/professional history?

I went to public schools in Prince George’s County, then to Dickinson College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania for a BA in History. I have an MLS from the University of Pittsburgh and a Masters in Liberal Arts from Johns Hopkins.

I became interested in becoming a librarian through my first job out of college at a local county-level historical society. There I wrote, typed, and filed catalog cards, so I have experience from those days.

My first professional job was with the Washington outpost of White & Case, a New York law firm. There I was in charge of interlibrary loan—mainly between law firms; these were the early days of Lexis/Nexis—and the central files. While I was there, the decision was made to move old files to external storage, and I asked the “steno pool”—who did the word processing—to print out all the documents for the files. “Why?” they asked. “All of it’s on the floppies!” Luckily I insisted, because these were Wang 5-inch floppies, which can’t be read anymore. You can understand why I’m a fan of paper copies.

Manuscript reports of the General Court of Virginia, formerly owned by Thomas Jefferson. Photo Credit: Donna Sokol

Manuscript reports of the General Court of Virginia, formerly owned by Thomas Jefferson. Photo Credit: Donna Sokol

How would you describe your job to other people?

In my experience, people don’t understand what cataloging is, so I usually simply say that I get to work with the most amazing books in the world. It is such a privilege. Over here it says “Cataloging is the process of adding an item to a catalog, a process typically including bibliographic description, subject analysis, and classification.” To that I would add that rare materials cataloging has the additional elements of identifying and authenticating those items.

Why did you want to work in the Library of Congress?

The collections here are unparalleled, and my colleagues are as serious about doing the work as I am.

 What is the most interesting fact you have learned about the Law Library of Congress?

I’m always amazed by the treasures we find, both in the Law Library and in non-law collections. Recently we were able to establish that a manuscript of Virginia General Court reports was Thomas Jefferson’s copy, by tracing it back to the Catalogue of the Law Department of the Library of Congress, 1839. It’s not listed in [Millicent] Sowerby’s Catalogue of the Library of Thomas Jefferson, so it’s one that [Sowerby] missed too. It was a very exciting find!  (And people say cataloging is boring …) 

What’s something most of your co-workers do not know about you?

Hmmm. I have completed the England Coast-to-Coast walk, now nearly 20 years ago. It was quite an adventure!




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