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Nouvelle chasse aux papillons, Castillon, A. Paril [n.d]. Photograph by Beatriz Haspo, 2022

The Impact of Provenance: The Carvalho Monteiro Collection (part 2)

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In my previous blog Finding hidden treasures: The Carvalho Monteiro Collection, we traveled back in time to 1929 when the Library of Congress purchased an important private library of over 30,000 items. This acquisition was completed without a list of titles and the items were subsequently incorporated into our various collections without provenance. The blog also described how an “Indiana-Jones”-kind of quest has been taking place for the last 10 years to find over 30,000 volumes among millions of items in the collection, using clues from the books encountered.

Now, let’s find out what happens after the book is identified as belonging to the Carvalho Monteiro collection and the impact of the project. In order to complete the process to improve access to the items found, a multi-step process needs to be completed with the book at hand.

A relational tracking database was created to compile selected data about the books searched and found and images of key elements of the volume, including the stamp on the verso of the title page. At the same time, a preservation assessment is conducted to evaluate the physical condition of each volume and to recommend further collections care actions, when needed.

View from the tracking database and the bibliographic record with the provenance. Photograph by Beatriz Haspo, 2022

One critical component of this project is to update the cataloguing record in our Integrated Bibliographic Database (or ILS). So, working together with specialists of our ILS Office we established the provenance of this collection as the “CARVALHO MONTEIRO LIBRARY”. This means that every item identified as belonging to his library, receives a special entry in the bibliographic record to record the provenance. As a result, anyone anywhere can search for “Carvalho Monteiro” in the Library of Congress online catalog and get a list of thousands of books that have been found so far.

In other words, the Carvalho Monteiro library is being reunited virtually, meaning that these books are now accessible to everyone.

Over the last 10 years, until Sept 2022, we reviewed over 10,000 items and identified 9,111 as belonging to the Carvalho Monteiro library. This represents almost 40% of the books dispersed in the General Collection & nearly 1/3 of the total acquisition. The matching rate is over 90%, reiterating the success of performing targeted searches. Interns and volunteers have spent more than 20,000 hours on this project.

To engage more colleagues in the search, we increased the visibility the project through special presentations, displays and publications. We even created bookmarks with highlights of the collection and flyers with a short explanation of the activities and findings.

Bookmarks. Photograph by Beatriz Haspo, 2022

More than statistical numbers, this initiative has built bridges of collaborations among colleagues at the Library and with other institutions, and especially between interns and volunteers from diverse backgrounds and cultures, who very frequently write to me asking how the finding is going. This project has also influenced the career paths of some interns. One of them, for example, decided to learn Portuguese and later pursued a career in Diplomacy. I was invited to her graduation at the State Department a few years ago.

To this date, 42 interns and volunteers from around the world have contributed to make the Carvalho Monteiro collection more accessible and preserved. They always say that they feel like the real Indiana Jones searching for clues and finding hidden treasures in the Library of Congress stacks.

LeahF. Bórquez (left) and Amy Olson (right) absolutely thrilled after turning the page and finding the stamp. Photograph by Beatriz Haspo, 2019 and 2021.

More recently on October 13, 2022, the Carvalho Monteiro Collection project was highlighted during the event “Visions of Brazil” organized by the Latin American, Caribbean and European Division of the Library of Congress as part of the commemorations of the 200th anniversary of Brazil’s Independence. With the presence of dignitaries of the Embassies of Brazil and Portugal the event included a small display of items found from his collection.

Reuniting the Carvalho Monteiro Library digitally is of critical importance to allow better understanding of the life and impact of this Renaissance man, to make relevant information available for researchers worldwide and to amplifying knowledge of the Luso-Brazilian culture.

Nouvelle chasse aux papillons, Castillon, A. Paril [n.d]. Photograph by Beatriz Haspo, 2022



  1. The ultimate treasure hunt! It is so cool to see every part of the project.

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