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A Fun Tradition — And a Room Full of Discoveries

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Last week I presided over one of my favorite Kluge Center traditions: our annual orientation for Wilson Center scholars to the Library of Congress.

I enjoy it because despite being seasoned academics from across the U.S. and around the world, Wilson Center scholars are sometimes surprised at the riches available to them right down Pennsylvania Avenue from their offices. When they realize the full extent of our collections and staff expertise, they are blown away. And that’s the fun part.

A secondary benefit is the chance to talk with the Wilson Center scholars about their research. I get unique access to hear what scholars from different parts of the world are thinking. That’s already a perk of my everyday life at the Kluge Center, and it’s doubly so when the Wilson scholars come.

This year, 29 Wilson scholars participated. They included a scholar researching authoritarian republics in the Arab world; a Masters candidate from Yonsei University in Seoul, South Korea; a Board member of The Centre for East European Policy Studies; and an Associate Fellow from the Istituto Affari Internazionali in Rome. For one scholar it was his second day ever in the United States. He had flown in from China the previous morning and come straight to the Library of Congress.

We divided the event into two parts. For the first 45 minutes, the scholars received an orientation to the Library’s extensive list of databases and e-resources from specialist Tom Mann. Tom has worked at the Library for more than 30 years. He literally wrote the book on how to conduct research here (here it is). Tom walked through some of the Library’s more than 700 databases filled with new and old scholarly articles, identifying which ones were most likely to help each scholar.

Wilson Center scholars receive an orientation to the Library of Congress databases and e-resources from Reference Librarian Tom Mann, October 7, 2014. Photo by Travis Hensley.

Next, we paired up the Wilson Scholars with specialists who have expertise in their respective fields. The specialists work at the Library. They help our Kluge Center scholars regularly, and are also available to members of the public who want to come in and do on-site research. This year specialists in Asia, Africa, the Hispanic world, the Middle East, Europe, Folklife, Science and Business, Recorded Sound, and Print Culture set aside an hour to sit with the new Wilson scholars and go over what collections we have that will be of use to them.

One Wilson scholar researching U.S. military medicine met with specialists from our Science, Technology and Business Division. This division includes 60,000 reference volumes on subjects such as engineering, medicine, and environmental sciences. It also holds technical dictionaries, scientific and technical journals, and more than 5 million technical reports issued or sponsored by government agencies that detail advancements in scientific and technical research. Our specialists pointed the scholar toward material in the Office of Scientific Research and Development (OSRD) Collection, which contains original military research conducted by the Allies during World War II on weaponry, detonators, medical treatments and vehicles. Much of the technology developed during WWII still has application today, and is invaluable for tracing the progress of military technologies and the relationship of university scientists with the military.

The Kluge Center has hosted this orientation each year since 2006. Why?

Firstly, it’s important to stress that orientations to our collections are available to anyone who wants to do research here, not solely scholars. Our main reading room offers a research orientation several times per week that is free and open to the public. And our area specialists stationed in the various reading rooms of the Library love to assist interested researchers. We also offer orientations to our Kluge Center scholars each month–in fact, 10 new Kluge scholars joined us for the Wilson Center event. Helping scholars and researchers is at the core of what the Library of Congress and the Kluge Center do.

That said, the Wilson Center and Kluge Center have a unique connection. We both offer research fellowships. We both have scholars in residence in Washington, D.C. There is a historical connection, too. James H. Billington, the current Librarian of Congress, directed the Wilson Center from 1973 to 1987. Dr. Carolyn T. Brown, immediate past director of the Kluge Center, was also a scholar at the Wilson Center in the mid- to late-1980s. We are in many ways sibling organizations–or perhaps first cousins. We enjoy fostering a continuing relationship between the two centers.

All-in-all, it’s a great event, and a highlight of our Kluge Center year. Most gratifying is the praise we receive afterward. Our friends at the Wilson Center report that the scholars have been incredibly enthusiastic about the presentations and the number of research opportunities that were opened up to them. The scholars praised Tom Mann to the skies for his presentation on databases–one showed off his list of databases with all his annotations. Other scholars lauded the expertise of our area specialists. Getting people excited about all that’s available to discover–that’s the most rewarding part.

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