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Using the Library of Congress Collections: One Intern’s Perspective

This post was written by intern Zachary Bernstein.

Zachary Bernstein, 2019.

How do you conduct research in the biggest library in the world, housed in three buildings and in over twenty reading rooms? That was the question I set out to answer as I began to explore the Library of Congress during the first few weeks of my internship here. My goal is to find a way for high school students to write research papers using the Library’s resources. These papers could be for any class in any subject, but particularly on my mind is the International Baccalaureate (IB) Program’s Extended Essay, a 4000-word essay that is required to receive an IB diploma. As an IB diploma recipient myself, I wrote an Extended Essay, so I aim to use my knowledge of that process (as well as any insight I have into the mind of a high school student I might have left, now a year removed from my high school graduation) to create resources for students to learn how to do research in the Library. While I am thinking about the Extended Essay in particular, I hope that the resources I create can be used by any high school student doing any sort of research project.

During my first week, my mentor took me and other interns working in my division on tours of all three buildings and their reading rooms. Although I had been familiar with the Library prior to working here, I had always thought the Main Reading Room was the primary place for accessing books, so it was quite eye-opening to realize how many other more specialized reading rooms there were, as well as how many other types of materials there were, such as sound recordings, videos, maps, and manuscripts. The other thing I noticed was how welcoming the librarians were and how interested they were to hear what projects we were working on.

Once I knew my way around the Library, my mentor wanted me to get some practice doing research, so, knowing I had an interest in music, she gave me the topic of jingles, particularly the scientific aspect of how and why they get stuck in your head, as well as the business aspect of how advertisers have made use of them. I did my preliminary research online. I was able to find a few news articles about why music gets stuck in your head, and using the Library’s database resources, I located quite a few journal articles relating to the topic of earworms, or, to use the more scientific terminology, involuntary musical imagery (INMI). Interestingly, these journal articles dated back to the mid-2000s at the earliest—for some reason it was not a topic that was studied very extensively until the 21st century, and there still is no definitive answer as to why earworms happen. However, most studies I looked at found that longer note lengths and smaller intervals between notes made songs more likely to appear as INMI.

As I considered the business aspect of the jingle, I thought about commercials that I see on TV nowadays. As a sampling, I watched a compilation of the top ten commercials from this year’s Super Bowl, and what was immediately obvious was that not a single one used a jingle. There are some jingles that are still used regularly, such as McDonalds or State Farm, but these are never the prominent feature of the commercial—they are merely associated with the brand, just like a logo is. So that led me to wonder what happened to the jingle? Why was it once such a widely used marketing technique that is hardly used anymore? I found a few more news articles that discussed this topic, including an NPR interview with jingle writer Steve Karmen. These pointed to the increasing use of pop music in commercials through the 1970s and 80s and the increasing acceptability of pop stars licensing their work, as the cause of the decline of jingles.

Once I had done this preliminary investigation, I searched for some books, and the ones I found really helped me understand the topic more in depth. One of these was called The Sounds of Capitalism: Advertising, Music, and the Conquest of Culture, which gave a very helpful background on the origin of not only jingles but of music in advertising in general. I learned how radio producers came around to using radio as a means of advertising, as well as how music became the primary means of radio advertising because it allowed advertisers to more readily prey upon customers’ emotions. Another book I looked at was called Who Killed the Jingle?  It was written by the aforementioned jingle writer Steve Karmen, who largely points to the rise of pop music in advertising as a “new aesthetic,” causing jingles to sound old-fashioned.

In further investigation of jingles, I noticed that most of them were simple melodies with very few chromatic tones that made heavy use of syncopation. In addition, nearly all of them were in major keys, and they used a lot of 7th and 9th chords, which points to a jazz influence. These observations, among others, allowed me to gain a better understanding of why jingles were once so effective and why they died out.

All in all, doing this research has been an incredibly informative experience. I definitely now have a greater understanding of what a high school student might experience if they choose to do research at the Library, and I think that will be a big help in writing a guide for them. I also think I now have more ideas on how to convince them to come to the Library to do research. Perhaps they can make do with the resources they can access from home or school, but some historical documents can only be accessed at the Library. I think that might be a big draw to students writing serious papers. The Library has resources that students can access nowhere else, so why not take advantage of the opportunity to learn from them?

One Comment

  1. Constance Carter
    July 22, 2019 at 1:23 pm

    So interesting, Zachary–I know that sheet music and cartoons capture the tone and tenor of the time, but I never had thought much about jingles and found your research fascinating. Thanks very much for sharing.

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