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Cataloging for Gold

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For the past 10 weeks, 47 college students have been digging through a variety of Library of Congress collections–finding amazing stuff so people like you can come here and get lost in it.

Such as?

Such as an ad for a patent medicine that figured in an 1898 murder case; a first edition in Russian of Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s “The Possessed;” small Brazilian books of populist poetry in Portuguese commemorating everything from the regional Robin Hood (Pernoite de Lampiao) to the felling of the World Trade Center towers; and the small-but-astonishing notebooks of artist and designer James Miho (who dropped in to see the display).

Today was results day for the fifth class of Library of Congress Junior Fellows, who showed off fascinating materials turned up in their work researching, inventorying, and cataloging these collections to make them easier to use. The internships are made possible by the generosity of the late Mrs. Jefferson Patterson and the Library’s James Madison Council.

Leslie Tabor, a second-year master’s candidate in Library Information Science at Syracuse University who worked with materials found in the Copyright Office, described how Kutnow’s Effervescent Powder figured in a murder case. A killer laced the nostrum with poison; today’s display featured a newspaper ad for the medicine–that offered free samples!

Jacob Roberts, who’ll be a junior majoring in History at Wesleyan University in the fall, used the Library’s “Chronicling America” collection of U.S. newspapers to research U.S. angles on the Dreyfus Affair, an infamous French anti-Semitism case that drew the famous phrase “J’Accuse!” from writer and journalist Emile Zola.

Shireen Al-Zahawi of Salt Lake City, who graduated last year with a Fine Arts degree from the University of Utah, researched the life of Library of Congress Japanese specialist Shiho Sakanishi, who died in 1976. The Japanese-born Sakanishi, a translator and scholar, attended college in the U.S., taught for a time, then became a specialist in the Library’s Japanese-language collections from 1930-1941. With the declaration of war against Japan in World War II, however, she was first interned and later deported to the nation of her birth. There, Dr. Sakanishi was honored for her scholarship. She returned to the U.S. in 1963 to give a convocation address at her alma mater, the University of Michigan.

Lest you think all these newly-exposed nuggets are still yellow with age, consider this: that collection of Brazilian folk poetry (“literatura de cordel”) continues to grow. Fellow Amy Jankowski, a master’s candidate in Library Science at the University of Indiana at Bloomington, noted that one of the freshest items in it is an ode to pop singer Michael Jackson … written, and placed in the collections, since his death.

Comments (7)

  1. Just a thought/suggestion… what about creating a blog for the college students? Not that I don’t love your retelling of what they find but it’d be great to get their first person narratives of their experiences as they’re discovering everything… kind of like diaries of a treasure hunter.

  2. Fascinating! Shireen, on behalf of those of us at the Salt Lake City Public Library, congratulations on your work and studies. Thank you to the LOC for this marvelous opportunity for students.

  3. Are you saying that all the items mentioned here were in the Library’s backlog of un-cataloged materials before this crop of Junior Fellows arrived?

  4. In a few cases the interns were doing cataloging from scratch, but in most cases they were going through previously cataloged collections looking for particularly noteworthy items (both for research and inventory purposes) or helping prepare what we call “finding aids,” which help researchers quickly locate key items within large collections. All in all, material from 18 divisions was analyzed.

  5. What a great idea!!! Sounds fascinating.

  6. Does any one have any information on royalties. And is their a rule that you cant publish your own book.. And just have some one make it for you.. while you your self get people to buy it..

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