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Katie Mullen and Katie Senn take a selfie in the Main Reading Room, Library of Congress
Before ending her time as a Junior Fellow, Kathleen Senn (Right) takes a selfie with Katie Mullen (left) in the Main Reading Room. Photo Credit: Katie Mullen 2023.

Collecting the world’s languages: A Junior Fellow’s Report from the Preservation Services Division

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The following is a guest post from Kathleen Senn, student at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign in the Master of Science in Library and Information Science program and 2023 Junior Fellow in the Preservation Services Division.

Katie Mullen and Katie Senn take a selfie in the Main Reading Room, Library of Congress
Before ending her time as a Junior Fellow, Kathleen Senn (Right) took a selfie with her mentor, Katie Mullen (Left), in the Main Reading Room. Photo Credit: Katie Mullen 2023.


The Library of Congress is the largest library in the world. Even though I have been working here as a Junior Fellow for over two months at this point, sometimes I am still astonished by how much material there is coming into the Library every single day. How does all of this material get processed so that the people who want to use it can use it?

A wooden cart with Korean serials held together in groups by rubber bands
A book truck of Korean serials ready for binding. Photo Credit: Kathleen Senn 2023.


The project that I have been working on during my time at the Library is called Inventory Review Protocols for International Collection Materials. Basically, what that means is that I have been helping to understand what the Library does with materials written in some of the world’s many languages, especially those written in scripts like Arabic, Cyrillic, Chinese, Japanese, and Korean (to name a few). Understanding how the Library processes these items and checks to make sure that they have been processed correctly ensures that they can be found by anyone who wants to access them in the future. By comparing quality control processes (the “Inventory Review Protocols” in “Inventory Review Protocols for International Collection Materials”), I was able to see how the Library is currently managing materials based on the needs and strengths displayed in multiple divisions. Ultimately, my project is about sharing these needs and strengths with all relevant divisions so that each one can benefit from the insights and capabilities of other divisions.

Part of the process of working with newly added Library materials written in other scripts involves romanization. Romanization involves taking materials written in non-Roman scripts and representing that information (such as book titles and authors) in the Roman alphabet, which is used to write English. This is done so that people at the Library can help others who want to access materials locate those materials, even if the people helping out do not speak or read a given script/language.

A large wooden transport truck with space for several hundred items is filled with items with identical hard covers but different titles.
These bound items will go to the Hebrew section of AMED (African and Middle Eastern Division), Photo Credit: Kathleen Senn 2023.


The section of the Preservation Services Division that I have been working in is called Processing and Preparation Services, or PPS. Serials at the Library are processed into bound volumes, which involves sending them to be fitted with endpapers and a hard cover (see K.F. Shovlin’s post for more details). This process helps to ensure the longevity of these serials—a hard cover is much harder to damage than a single sheet of paper for a cover! When they have been bound, they must be checked before being sent to their final location in the Library, which is when they are able to be used by patrons.

This checking process involves making sure that the barcode on an item is connected to the correct record in the Library’s Integrated Library System, or ILS, which is how the Library keeps track of what it has and where it is located. You may have used part of the ILS yourself—the Online Public Access Catalog, or OPAC, is what you are seeing when you are looking for a book or other item on the Library’s website. Besides the barcode, the call number (which might look something like this: PJ 1097.G5 1990 Copy 1), author, and title of the item are also checked to make sure that the information on the item and in the ILS match up. As part of my project, I participated in this process myself. It takes diligence and a sharp eye to get through the carts of books that the Library receives!

As I mentioned previously, I have also been working with other divisions to understand how materials undergo quality control procedures in those divisions. I have worked with people in the Asian Division; African and Middle Eastern Division; Latin American, Caribbean & European Division; Serial & Government Publications Division; and Collections Management Division. Looking at all of the different procedures used in quality control across the Library has given me a chance to understand the time and effort that goes into making the collections available to interested patrons. Taking everything that I’ve learned from this process into account, I worked together with my Project Mentor, Katie Mullen, to practice working with materials in a language I didn’t know at all: Georgian. While I do have foreign language learning experience (mostly in East Asian languages), Georgian was wholly unfamiliar to me.

A girl listening to music, a young boy and girl feeding birds, and a field of flowers with butterflies decorate the covers of the serials.
These are some of the Georgian serials that Katie Mullen and I are working on., Photo Credit: Kathleen Senn 2023


When we got the serials, we realized that some of them did not have barcodes on them already. Adding barcodes to items and making sure that those barcodes match with the records in the ILS is part of a process called pinning and linking. Once the items have barcodes and those barcodes are matched with the records they go with, then it is possible to take them and put them into groups so that they can be prepared for binding. Next, a ticket is created for the bound item in a program called ABLE, which stands for Advanced Binding Library Exchange. This ticket has information about which issues of a serial will become a single bound volume on it, as well as information about which lot they are a part of, the person who created the ticket, the color of the binding, what the title will look like on the cover or spine of the bound volume, and what kind of binding will be done on the volume, among other things. Next, the items are sent off to be bound.

We are still working our way through the Georgian serials, but I definitely see why it is important to know what it takes to handle something in a language that you don’t know—it’s complicated! Our goal is to help even more employees to learn to work with foreign language materials so that they can be available to patrons.

I think that one of the things that makes the Library of Congress so special is that the catalog represents the hard work and attention to detail of many, many people contributing to a resource for not only Congress, but also the American people and the world as a whole. As soon as an item becomes part of the collection, it must be cared for and may pass through many hands to get to interested patrons. I hope that, in some small way, I have been able to contribute to that work during my time at the Library.

More information about the Junior Fellows Program is available here, and the video presentation on my project will be available on the Library of Congress website in the Fall of 2023.

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  1. This article was very informative and clearly written.
    I was amazed to find out how complex the process is to get literature cataloged so that it is available to readers.

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