Describe what you do at the Library of Congress and the materials with which you work.
While I’m officially the Head of the Science Reference Section, I spend most of my time working with the collections, answering reference requests and creating webcasts, book displays, and bibliographies. I work with textbooks, journals, diaries, cookbooks, reminiscences, biographies, magazines, pictures, electronic sources, manuscript materials, microforms, artifacts — everything you might expect to find in a library. I especially like the 18th and 19th century materials and learning more about the daily lives of our forebears — their foraging techniques, what they ate, how they cooked and cleaned, what they wore, and how they spent their time.
Do you have a favorite item in the Library’s online system?
Yes, it’s the history of household technology webcast. This webcast is chock-a-block full of illustrations from public domain books, journals and trade cards and from the Library’s collections of prints and photographs. It also includes quotations from women’s diaries, journals, and household manuals of the time that illuminate the challenges and hardships our forebears faced in feeding and clothing their families in the 19th century. A descendent of Elizabeth Steel Wright, from whose diaries I quoted, rang me one day to tell me how excited she was that her great, great, great grandmother’s diaries had been used in the webcast. I also like the fact that you can access the transcript of the webcast without stopping to view the webcast.
Share a time when an item from the collections sparked your curiosity.
I was reading Barbara Haber’s From Hardtack to Home Fries: An Uncommon History of American Cooks and Meals (New York, Free Press, c2002), which had a chapter entitled, “Home Cooking in the FDR White House.” It claimed that the food was so bad that if one was invited to a State dinner, one should eat before they went. Much to my delight I found that the Library had the memoirs and papers of Victoria Henrietta Kugler Nesbitt, chosen by Eleanor Roosevelt to run the Franklin D. Roosevelt White House kitchen. Ms. Nesbitt did indeed keep her eye on the food budget and ration books; she noted, “we experimented with cheap cuts and innards, and saved our points for distinguished visitors.” Indeed, if there was soup, there was no salad, and kidneys, liver, and kedgeree were the order of the day. I have since collected books on presidential food and entertaining at the White House.
Tell us about a memorable interaction with a K-12 teacher or student.
A teacher in Illinois is writing a children’s book about William Beebe’s adventures in the bathysphere. Beebe and Otis Barton were the first to venture a half-mile down in the ocean. I was able to introduce her to the Library’s Recorded Sound Reference Center’s blog on the subject and direct her to the Library’s Manuscript Division, which holds the papers of Gloria Hollister Anable, Beebe’s research assistant during the dives. The Library’s general collections has copies of the periodicals in which Beebe chronicles the 15 dives in 1930 as well as the historic dive described in his Half Mile Down (New York, Harcourt, Brace and Company, 1934). I loaned the teacher my personal copy of “Bermuda’s Depths: Those Who Dared to Dive”–a video reenactment which includes original footage of Beebe and the bathysphere.
The one thing you’d like to tell teachers about the Library’s materials with which you work
Please ask us questions. The Library’s collections are so vast that we often do not even know the treasures hidden within. An actor who was going to play the doctor who jumped over the dress circle to be at Lincoln’s side after he had been shot wanted to know where to put his hands on Lincoln’s body. I was able to find an illustration of the method of resuscitation used on Lincoln, as well as the speech the doctor had made on the 100th anniversary of Lincoln’s birth, entitled Lincoln’s Last Hours, in which he actually recounts where he put his hands on Lincoln’s body. When I first heard the question, I had no idea that I would be able to find the information the actor needed. It is only when questions are asked, that librarians really delve into the Library’s collections.