Over the past five years, more of the Library’s rare book collections have become accessible to researchers thanks to a project involving the transcription of card catalog files into the Library’s online catalog.
Most holdings from the Rare Book and Special Collections Division were entered into the Library’s electronic catalog during projects in the 1970s and 1980s; however, files for some collections were missed. A select number of special files that listed copy-specific information about the books—former owners, inscriptions, or special bindings—were never entered into the online records. Some collections, purchased or donated to the Rare Book and Special Collections after the 1980s, had not yet been cataloged online. So, for many years, the only way of finding some of these rare books was to come into the Reading Room and search in a physical card catalog file or to use one of the Division’s printed catalogs that date to the days before automation. Happily, searching for these materials has just became easier.
In 2018, the Library undertook a project to enter all of this information into the online catalog using various card files, printed catalogs, electronic spreadsheets, and finding aids so that the information would be searchable and quickly located. Over the next five years, information from over 275,000 cards and entries in other formats was entered into the online catalog. The project was challenging, because the missing information was not uniform or easily predictable: sometimes entirely new entries needed to be created for collections or books, but, at other times, merely adding information to an old online record—information such as the name of a former owner or an illustrator—was sufficient to complete the project.
Among these newly added books are the Library’s complete set of over 1,300 Armed Services Editions. These small, pocket-sized paperbacks were produced for American soldiers during the Second World War by the Council on Books in Wartime, which donated the set to the Library from 1943 to 1951. They are now searchable in the online catalog using the phrase (in quotes) “Armed Services Editions Collection (Library of Congress)”.
Another newly-accessible collection is the Library of Ralph Ellison, the working-library of the famous African American author and literary critic best known for his award-winning novel, Invisible Man (1952). Ellison’s library contains over 2,200 volumes of modern literature, literary criticism, theory, and biography, along with many translations of Ellison’s works and first editions of his friends’ works. While the Rare Book and Special Collections staff had a list of the books that was available on the Library’s website in PDF form, entering the holdings into the online catalog made the books searchable by keyword across other collections using the phrase (in quotes), “Ralph Ellison Collection (Library of Congress)”.
While the titles in the Library of Susan B. Anthony were already searchable in the online catalog, references to her annotations in her books are now also available in the records, such as her inscription that Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s Aurora Leigh was “carried in my satchel for years and read & re-read … I have always cherished it above all other books.”
Also added to the online holdings were numerous books donated by Washington physician Joseph Meredith Toner, who gave over 50,000 books to the Library in 1882, some of which had never made it into the online catalog.
Other newly added or enhanced collections include Printed Ephemera, Documents of the First Fourteen Congresses, Congressional Speeches, Woodrow Wilson’s Library, Big Little Books, Miniature Books, The Aramont Library, NEA Small Press, fine and armorial bindings, autographs, provenance, and bookplates.
The Rare Book and Special Collections Division is already receiving requests from researchers wanting to see these newly-searchable collections. If you find something you’d like to see or know more about, contact us via Ask a Librarian: https://ask.loc.gov/rare-books-special-collections.
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