Five Questions with Gary Johnson, Reference Librarian, Library of Congress Newspaper and Current Periodical Reading Room

This post is by Gary Johnson of the Library of Congress.

Gary Johnson

Describe what you do at the Library of Congress and the materials you work with.

As a reference librarian in the Newspaper & Current Periodical Reading Room my basic functions are to answer questions about and provide access to the Library’s collection of serials (newspapers and periodicals) and government documents. My collection development responsibilities include reviewing the periodical collection to insure that desired materials are arriving and recommending new acquisitions for the Library’s collections. I am regularly searching the Library’s catalog and finding aids to assist researchers locate the materials they need and explaining how to use the resources of the reading room and the Library. The materials I work with range from 18th century print format newspapers to newspapers on microfilm and in electronic databases.

In my photo I’m reading the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, my hometown newspaper that I delivered as a newsboy when I was a kid. Considering the work I do today, my life seems to have truly circled around.

Do you have a favorite item from the Library’s online collections?

My favorite item is the latest thing that has been located to answer a researcher’s question!  Seriously, my favorite online collection produced at the Library is Chronicling America. Chronicling America is produced in my Division and provides access to a large database of digitized newspaper pages—the largest portion between 1836 and 1922—and has a US newspaper directory that includes information about newspapers (and institutions where they are collected) from 1690 to the present. This is a  fantastic collection!

Among the digitized pages, the cartoons appeal to me, although historic changes in perceptions of humor can make many of these works seem quaint.

Enrico Caruso from the Bain News Service

Share a time when an item from the collections sparked your curiosity.

My curiosity is constantly stimulated while researching in newspapers and interacting with researchers and their inquiries. Fortunately, my job provides the perfect outlet for creating productive results from pent-up curiosity: Creating Topics Pages for Chronicling America! One of my father’s jobs was the maintenance man (i.e., janitor) at the local public library—which happened to be a Carnegie Library—so a Topics Page was the perfect opportunity to learn and share about Andrew Carnegie’s gifts to America. The “Recommended Topics” pages that I have enjoyed working on include: US aviators in the French military service during WWIEnrico Caruso, and  the comic strip Skygack .

Mr. Skygack from the Day Book, February 10, 1912

Tell us about a memorable interaction with a K-12 teacher or student.

Recently a middle school student working on a National History Day project inquired about locating American Revolutionary War-era newspapers with material related to her subject. Unfortunately, her topic was the Culper Spy Ring—clearly, not an organization that was publicizing its activities in newspapers. A few mentions of the spies as they went about their everyday activities were located and the student visited the Library from Pennsylvania to examine several print format 18th century newspaper issues. It was particularly gratifying for me to feel that I was playing a role in building this student’s foundation for lifetime learning.

Each summer the Teacher Institutes provide an opportunity to briefly collaborate with teachers on how LC resources could be used in their classrooms. I recall a conversation with an early literacy educator who asked about how Chronicling America might be used with her young students. Well, kids enjoy cartoons and comic strips and there are plenty of public domain images in those digitized newspapers. The text may need to be updated and adjusted for the intended lesson, but the images may provide an element of enjoyment to engage the students. I don’t know if this concept actually came to fruition, but it still seems like it has possibilities.

What would you’d like to tell teachers about the materials that you work with or the collections in general?

No matter what the topic of your research is, resources from many different reading rooms and areas of the collection may be relevant. If you are researching the opera singer Enrico Caruso you will find review of performances and news stories in newspapers, sound recordings in the Performing Arts Reading Room (also available digitally in the National Jukebox) and photographs in the Prints & Photographs Division. Specialists in each Division can be contacted through the Ask A Librarian service.

Don’t neglect information in different formats … everything has not been digitized. Microfilm and other materials can be ordered from around the country through the interlibrary loan system—talk to your local public library. However, plan ahead—these materials may take some time to arrive.

Lastly, be sure to check local resources. Institutions that are nearby (universities, historical societies, genealogical societies, public libraries, etc.) create and maintain valuable collections that deserve to be used and will likely cover subjects of local interest in more detail than a large institution like the Library of Congress.



  1. Mary Johnson
    July 11, 2017 at 7:19 pm

    It’s lovely to meet the person behind my favorite Chronicling America resource – the Topics Pages! Whenever I introduce teachers and librarians to Library of Congress resources, I never fail to show them this hidden treasure. It not only saves teachers and students a lot of time searching, but it also serves as an excellent model of curation. Thank you, Gary Johnson!

  2. David Ronald Yurek
    November 26, 2017 at 4:10 pm

    Mr. Johnson, did you happen to teach in Silver Lake MN? We are looking for our old English teacher and Librarian. Thank you and all the teachers and librarians who have and continued to teach and inspire.

  3. Robert Steininger
    June 3, 2022 at 6:12 pm

    Nice to see you on the Library of Congress site!

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