Five Questions with Cheryl Adams, Reference Specialist for Religion in the Library of Congress Humanities and Social Sciences Division

Cheryl Adams

Cheryl Adams, at work in the Main Reading Room

The following is a guest post from Cheryl Adams of the Library of Congress.

Describe what you do at the Library of Congress and the materials you work with.
I’m the reference specialist for religion in the Humanities and Social Sciences Division, so I work in the beautiful Main Reading Room. I’m responsible for recommending acquisitions in religion, philosophy and psychology; I work closely with area seminary students and faculty; I assist researchers with questions in person, by letter and through our online Ask a Librarian service. We field fun and challenging questions from around the corner or across the globe. Our division also teaches orientations to help researchers use our collections effectively.

In addition to questions relating to religion, when I work at the desk I might help someone researching the history of catsup, ideas about beauty in the 1860s, or wanting a list of consulting firms who helped incumbents win senate races, 1980-2012 (real questions!). I love the variety of both questions and researchers. And researchers in the Main Reading Room need only be 16 or older (and curious) in order to use our collections, which makes for a wide world of topics and interests.

Ellis Island by H. Russotto and Solomon Small, 1914.

Ellis Island by H. Russotto and Solomon Small, 1914.

Do you have a favorite item from the Library’s online collections?
Gosh, so hard to pick! What I love about anything that I might choose is how a researcher could begin with the item and use it as a jumping off point to explore the collections available online and in many reading rooms. For example, I’ll choose the Thomas Edison film of Emigrants [i.e. immigrants] landing at Ellis Island.   A genealogist might be interested in family arrivals in the United States through this port of entry. Someone else might be curious about what guidebooks these new immigrants could have used to explore their new city. The sheet music collection might draw the attention of a musician looking into the songs written about the Ellis Island immigrants. A labor historian might delve into our collections on the immigrant labor force and how it changed our country. Others might be curious about the customs, food or clothing from the many homelands represented by these new arrivals. In just these few examples we’ve traveled to the genealogy, business, music, folk life, culinary and history collections at the Library of Congress – and we’ve only scratched the surface of available materials and topics related to this short film. I didn’t even mention biography for Edison himself!

Share a time when an item in the collections sparked your curiosity.
A few years ago I was in the stacks looking for an answer to a letter when I chanced across The Pat Boone Devotional Book. There was Pat Boone smiling cheerfully, if anachronistically, from the cover. I became curious about the way in which publishers of many faiths reach out to teenagers or particular groups of people and how that approach changes with the times. Our collections hold Bibles aimed at cowboys, working mothers, military veterans and toddlers. Because we don’t weed our collection of older titles, a historian could easily look at, for example, how a publisher of religious material might approach teens in the 1920s or 1950s and compare those with more recent publications like the New Testament for teens.  What I find interesting is that one can look at this topic theologically or through the lens of publishing or American cultural history.

Tell us about a memorable interaction with a K-12 teacher or student.
Because we serve those who are 16 or older, the main chance I have to interact with elementary or junior high students is at the National Book Festival (Coming Sept 5, 2015). I enjoy the energy of the children or teens as they pull parents toward a favorite author or ask for a second book mark for books they’re reading. I worked in the tent for young adults the year Suzanne Collins, author of the Hunger Games, was to speak. The tent was packed an hour before her arrival with expectant readers.

What’s one thing you’d like to tell teachers about the materials that you work with or the collections in general?
It’s such a privilege to work with the collections at the Library of Congress – but what makes working here truly exciting is the curiosity of the researchers. There’s nothing I love more than working with someone who wants to dig in and learn more about something that intrigues, delights, confuses or fascinates them. We have so much here, perhaps 15% of which is digitized. These enticing digitized items are just the beginning…Curiosity is the key to unlocking more.

Five Questions with Kristi Finefield, Reference Librarian, Prints and Photographs Division

For me, one of the greatest joys of working at the Library is that I continually have the opportunity to choose a new favorite item, and I’ll never need to pick the same one twice, thanks to the vastness of the collections. Every day, I see an image I’ve never seen before or view a photo with new eyes because of a researcher’s enthusiasm for their research topic. Even with all the tools at my disposal to locate specific items, my day is still full of serendipity and discovery – and brand new favorites!

Five Questions with Abby Yochelson, Reference Specialist for English and American Literature, Main Reading Room

My all-time favorite teacher was Mrs. Campbell in sixth grade. One of her activities was to have us memorize and recite poetry a couple of times a year. While I was painfully shy back then, I thought the activity was terrific (once my turn was finished)! In our online collections, I really love the copy of Walt Whitman’s poem “Oh Captain, My Captain.” It’s a printed copy but it includes corrections in Whitman’s handwriting with a note to the publisher about “bad perversions.”

Preserving Songs and Culture: Zora Neale Hurston and the Federal Writers’ Project

By the time Zora Neale Hurston went to work for the Florida Writers’ Project in 1939, she had already written her novel Their Eyes Were Watching God (1937), numerous short stories, and nine plays. (All nine plays, including one musical, are available online from the Library of Congress.) The Library’s “Sources and Strategies” article in the May/June 2015 issue of Social Education, the journal of the National Council for the Social Studies, discusses Hurston’s work during her time with the Federal Writers’ Project (FWP) in Florida.

Civil War Photography: New Technologies and New Uses, a Teacher Primary Source Set from the Library of Congress

Can you imagine a photograph made of metal? A picture book made with egg whites? A wood-and-glass device that lets you see 3-D images? In the 1850s and 1860s, these were all cutting-edge photographic technologies. The Library’s newest primary source set, “Civil War Photography: New Technologies and New Uses,” immerses students in the new methods and formats that emerged in the decades around the war.