This is the first in a series of five posts documenting Poet Laureate Joy Harjo’s summertime meetings with librarians and curators across the Library of Congress. The meetings grew out of Harjo’s interest in learning more about the Library’s services and collections, especially Library materials pertaining to Native peoples and cultures. This post highlights Harjo’s visit to the Library’s Main Reading Room. Future posts will explore her visits to the Library’s Geography and Map Division, Manuscript Division, Prints and Photographs Division, and American Folklife Center.
On Saturday, July 13, my colleague Abby Yochelson and I had the pleasure of introducing Joy Harjo to the collections and services available through the Library’s Main Reading Room, where we both work as reference librarians. Earlier in the week, in anticipation of her trip to several Library reading rooms, Joy had spent a few minutes registering for her Reader Identification Card at the reader registration station just across from the Main Reading Room. The card, she’d learned from our own Rob Casper, is required for all researchers 16 and above who wish to visit a Library reading room or research center to conduct research. With her card already in hand, she was able to sail right into the Main Reading Room to begin her orientation.
The Main Reading Room, Abby and I told Joy as we stood beneath the magnificent dome rising 160 feet above us, is the starting point for most on-campus general research conducted by Library users. While there are some twenty reading rooms and research centers at the Library, many of which are focused on special formats or geographic locations, the Main Reading Room is the principal starting point for accessing the Library’s general collections of books and bound periodicals.
The general collections, we explained, are part of the Library’s closed stack system. Researchers must place a request for materials in the general collections, and then wait for the materials to be retrieved and delivered to them by Library staff. To save time, Abby and I had taken the liberty of requesting a selection of materials from the Library’s stacks ahead of Joy’s visit to illustrate the breadth and depth of the collections. The works we showed Joy, as we gathered at a desk in the Reference Assistance Room, ranged from children’s books on Native American history and writers, to genealogical works on the Muscogee Creek Nation (of which Joy is an enrolled member), to collections of poetry and artwork by Native American artists. Unsurprisingly, Joy recognized most of the books we showed her, though a few that were unfamiliar to her, and which she made note of for future reference, included:
- Woodward’s Reminiscences of the Creek, or Muscogee Indians, Contained in Letters to Friends in Georgia and Alabama. By Thomas S. Woodward … With an appendix containing interesting matter relating to the general subject. With a foreword by Peter Brannon. [Available online through the Internet Archive]
- Creek by Clood. Transcribed by Jacqueline Walker Hines; edited by Richard Paul Hines.
- Movable Masks and Figures of the North Pacific Coast Indians. By Robert Bruce Inverarity, with an introduction by Erna Gunther.
While the general collections are closed stack, Joy was thrilled to learn that the Main Reading Room—and most other Library reading rooms and centers—maintain walk-up reference collections whose volumes researchers can take right off the shelves. The Main Reading Room’s reference collections include approximately 50,000 volumes covering all subject areas, though there is an emphasis on the humanities, social sciences, and bibliography.
Abby and I walked Joy around to the parts of the reference collection we thought would most interest her, in particular the reference sections related to literature and biography, and a large, standalone local history and genealogy reference collection.
In the first two sections we looked at many volumes containing criticism and biographies of several of Joy’s friends and fellow writers (not to mention of Joy herself!). The genealogy section was of acute interest to Joy, who has already done extensive work documenting her ancestors and family history. We let her know that the Main Reading Room is regularly staffed during most weekends by at least one genealogy librarian, and she and other researchers can consult with them, either in person or through the Library’s Ask a Librarian service, for help continuing their genealogical research.
We concluded Joy’s Main Reading Room visit with a special trip into the Library’s stacks, where we took her to one of the many decks containing novels, poetry collections, and other literary works. There, she browsed books on several of the shelves. Among the titles in this particular range of shelves we showed her were poetry collections by poet Jayne Cortez, whose work Joy has said “opened the first doorway for me, between the written word and the spoken/sung poetry of my traditional, ceremonial Mvskoke people.”
Before our time with Joy concluded, Abby and I presented her with a hard copy of Many Nations: A Library of Congress Resource Guide for the Study of Indian and Alaska Native Peoples of the United States (1996), a key reference aid for learning more about the Library’s Native American collections and resources (and now available online). We encouraged her to return to the Main Reading Room, or to contact us, any time she had questions related to her genealogical research and her study of Native American literature, history, and culture.
This brief recap of Joy’s visit only touches on the collections and services available to users through the Library’s Main Reading Room. To gain a better understanding of what’s available to you, I encourage you to review the following resources:
- the Main Reading Room website, which includes information for researchers, reading room policies, details about our local history and genealogy services, information about research orientations for new users, and more;
- “Finding Literature in the Library of Congress,” a blog post by Abby Yochelson, American and English Literature Reference Specialist, on conducting literary research in the Main Reading Room; and
- the Research and Reference Services website, which lists the Library’s reading rooms and research centers, and includes many links on how to prepare for a research visit to the Main Reading Room and other areas of the Library.
For those of you who would like to learn more about Joy Harjo and her activities as Poet Laureate, you can review our Joy Harjo resource guide. Finally, if you have any further questions about the Main Reading Room’s collections and services, please don’t hesitate to contact us through the Library’s Ask a Librarian service!