This post is by Megan Metcalf of the Library of Congress
Describe what you do at the Library of Congress.
I am a Reference Librarian in the Main Reading Room and the Women’s, Gender, and LGBTQ+ Studies Collection Specialist and Recommending Officer for the Library. In all aspects of my work, I facilitate access to Library collections and services. I provide in-person research and reference assistance in the Main Reading Room and remotely via e-mail, over the phone, at outreach events, and through our digital reference service, Ask a Librarian. I assist researchers with both general inquiries and those that are related to my subject specialty.
As the Recommending Officer, I purchase Women’s, Gender, and LGBTQ+ Studies materials for the Library in a variety of formats and languages. I continuously evaluate the Library’s General and Special Format Collections to determine acquisition needs and priorities. It’s essential to know the collections in my area in order to provide the highest level of service possible to researchers and to identify items for displays and exhibits, choose items for reference, discover and address conservation needs, and understand collection strengths and weaknesses.
I also teach. I may lead a research orientation, create scripted instructional videos, produce a book talk, publish online research guides, work the reference desk, conduct a research consultation, coordinate the monthly Women’s History and Gender Studies discussion group, or write for Library publications. All these activities share a goal of educating people on how best to utilize and navigate Library of Congress collections and services.
What is your favorite item from the Library’s online collections?
What a tough question! I love our digital collections of audio recordings, and my favorite might just be Audre Lorde reading her poems with comment in the Recording Laboratory, Feb. 23, 1977. Lorde’s work has been very influential to me and to contemporary feminisms in general, and it gives me goosebumps to imagine her walking the halls of the Library of Congress. This recording led me on a hunt for more materials on Audre Lorde which turned into a blog post for In the Catbird Seat.
Share a time when an item from the Library’s collections sparked your curiosity.
Daily! And especially when I find items that came in through Copyright acquisition that were not being collected by other libraries at the time. It reminds me that there is this huge potential for discovery in our collections. For example, one of my favorite items to show off is a 1954 self-published work by Edgar Carlton Winford entitled Femme Mimics: A Pictorial Record of Female Impersonation, a book featuring the multi-faceted worlds of what were then called femme mimics or female impersonators. Finding a mainstream publisher for this in 1954 would have been next to impossible, which is why Copyright acquisitions are so crucial. For the collections to be truly universal it’s essential to collect materials representative of all viewpoints, not just those that made it into the mainstream press.
When I am walking through the stacks I feel like I am in the biggest treasure chest ever created. And also it feels like Hogwarts, just a little bit.
Tell us about a memorable interaction with a Library user.
Impossible to pick just one! Sharing my love of the Main Reading Room is always such a treat. I’ve shared a lot of special moments with people of all ages (and one penguin!) staring up in awe at the dome, the statues, the stained glass, the marble. Every moment in that room is an opportunity to savor tangible history.
At the National Book Festival last year, I hosted a zine-making activity that turned out to be quite popular, and especially with 5-12 year olds. We started with two tables and as the day went on we took over more space, eventually filling five tables with young zinesters. One mother pulled me aside and told me the activity really helped her kids start asking questions about how books were made. Those little moments of connection mean the world to me. I want to inspire learners and creators of all ages, and luckily we have the collections that can do just that!
What’s one thing you’d like to tell teachers about the Library?
This is your library! There is a popular myth that we are just open to Congress or the most scholarly of researchers, but we are a public library open to absolutely everyone. The Library of Congress collections are so much more diverse, inclusive, and universal than people often realize. The Library is home to unique materials like presidential hair, death masks, cuneiform tablets, wax cylinders, artist books, zines and comics, and literally hundreds of millions of other items. The only limit is your imagination. I was so honored to work on the Pride in the Library exhibit in June 2017 and to see so many new visitors realize that not only do we have materials on LBGTQ+ topics, but that we have them in virtually every format and in a wide variety of languages. We even have LGBTQ+ books in Braille! It was really very moving to share that experience with my colleagues and my community. Helping others discover this place and all it has to offer will never get old!