Serendipity in the Stacks

Lauren Cater (right) explains some of the work that she did this summer as a Junior Fellow in the Serial and Government Publications Division developing research guides (also known as “Topic Pages”) for the Library’s Chronicling America website. She focused on the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th centuries, which included such events as the assassinations of Presidents McKinley and Garfield and the Spanish-American War. (Library of Congress/Abby Brack photo)

My colleague Audrey Fischer, who has been taking the lead on publicity for the Junior Fellows program for the last few years, has offered up this guest post:

serendipity (n): a propensity for making fortuitous discoveries by accident.

“Serendipity” is the word that most comes to mind while viewing a special display of Library materials assembled by the 2010 Junior Fellows Summer Interns and Library curators.

Approximately 100 items from 30 collections housed in 16 Library divisions were assembled and displayed at the Library on Aug. 5 by 41 interns selected from more than 600 applicants from colleges and universities throughout the country.

“The items you’ve processed are part of the national collection and the display is a living tribute to Mrs. Jefferson Patterson, who believed in making an investment in young people,” said Associate Librarian for Library Services Deanna Marcum, who addressed the interns at the event.  (The late Mrs. Jefferson Patterson and the James Madison Council generously support the annual Junior Fellows Summer Internship Program.)

An ambrotype of an African-American soldier and his family. This photograph was found in Cecil County, Md., making it probable that this soldier belonged to one of the five U.S. Colored Troop regiments from Maryland. (Library of Congress/Abby Brack photo)

But getting back to serendipity, there’s:

The rare (perhaps only) underground copy of Leo Tolstoy’s “Novoe Evangelie” (The New Gospel, 1883), which was found by a Russian-speaking intern in the European Division’s Cyrillic 4 Collection. This re-write of the Gospels and other perceived offenses got Tolstoy excommunicated from the Russian Orthodox Church.

New and different perspectives on the Civil War, World Wars I and II and the Cold War were found in the Prints and Photographs Division (ambrotypes and tintypes soon to be shared on Flickr), American Folklife Center (Veterans History Project collections from World War I veterans), the Asian Division (items revealing World War II events from the Japanese perspective) and the Manuscript Division (papers of Bernard A. Schriever who helped develop the Intercontinental Ballistic Missile).

An 1886 pamphlet urging Congress to pass the International Copyright Law of 1891, containing signatures of Mark Twain, Louisa May Alcott, Oliver Wendell Holmes and others was found in the Law Library’s collections. Enterprising interns cross-referenced the famous names with the Library’s other resources and found related material in the Manuscript Division.

An intern from the University of Michigan learned that her summer project (Digital Preservation Outreach and Education) was spearheaded by the University of Michigan – one of the Library’s many partners in the National Digital Information Infrastructure and Preservation Program. So she can continue to help with the effort – and perhaps carve a career path – when she returns to campus.

    That’s serendipity for the Library and its summer interns!

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