This post was written by Christine Pruzin of the Library of Congress.
Describe what you do at the Library of Congress and the materials you work with as part of your day to day activities.
As part of the Library’s Researcher and Reference Services Division, I provide assistance to both onsite and online visitors. Each service we provide to visitors who come to the Library in Washington D.C. has a counterpart in the online sphere. On site at the Library in D.C., I staff the reference desks in the Library’s Thomas Jefferson building providing reference assistance and guidance to visitors, including instruction on using the online catalog and electronic resources. We also provide orientations to those who have come to do research as well as individualized reference assistance to help in identifying relevant materials. For our online visitors, we respond to inquiries through the Ask A Librarian email and chat service, conduct webinars that provide an overview of the Library’s website as well as on special topics, and create research guides that highlight the Library’s resources. What remains constant is a dedication to providing the best experiences for all users of the Library.
Do you have a favorite item from the Library’s online collections?
Almost every day I can find something that becomes a new favorite. However, I do have a special attachment to the Scrapbooks of Elizabeth Smith Miller and Anne Fitzhugh Miller which are included in the National American Woman Suffrage Association Collection. Recently, while on a temporary assignment in the Rare Book and Special Collections Division, I asked for a project that would familiarize me with the kinds of materials in their collections and might also be helpful to them with their digitization efforts. The items in the scrapbooks had been digitized, but data such as descriptive information was still being collected and entered into a database.
My task was to measure and assign specific descriptive terms for each of the individual items in the scrapbooks then enter this information into the database. Handling each of the items provided the opportunity to think about the efforts this mother/daughter team took to document the suffrage cause, not only through their involvement with their local group, the Geneva Political Equality Club, but also by including coverage of the issues from a national and international perspective. Now, I was helping to share their efforts through technology—digital access not only to help preserve the original items, but also to allow someone examining them to appreciate and understand the effort it took to collect and compile all of the items.
Share a time when an item from the Library’s collections sparked your curiosity.
Most of the time it’s a patron’s request for a particular item that brings out the detective in me. I recall one patron requesting how to access all of the Redbook articles written by Margaret Mead during a certain time frame. I had read Blackberry Winter: my earlier years by Mead and was fascinated by her. In the process of pulling together information to provide the patron, I discovered that the Library has a collection of Mead’s papers and there was also an online exhibit, Margaret Mead: Human Nature and the Power of Culture. Although I had discovered that the Library and other institutions had Redbook on microfilm, which would probably be available for the patron to borrow, I also found that the Redbook articles were included in the collection of Mead’s papers. I couldn’t resist going through the process of searching the online finding aid for the Mead collection, identifying boxes that included the Redbook articles, going to the Manuscript Division to request the boxes, and going through each box, one folder at a time. I got such a sense of satisfaction and of having been very thorough in my search, but most of all I felt that I had been allowed a sort of intimate view of a person I had admired by reading about her, never expecting to be touching papers she had probably compiled and arranged.
Tell us about a memorable interaction with a patron, K-12 teacher, or student.
Since I assist online patrons as well as in-person patrons I’d like to note that interactions can be memorable even when they are online and somewhat anonymous. For example, I have responded to online inquiries where someone is trying to find a copy of a favorite poem of a person who has died so they can read it at the service. There is usually a very short deadline and when we are able to help, despite the sad moment, we usually receive a grateful follow-up response. Needless to say, this is always a touching experience.
The most memorable in-person interactions have been with students who come to the Library with a professor for a research experience. Typically this is the first time they have been to a large, complex library like the Library of Congress, and they are sometimes hesitant to pursue a research avenue they are unfamiliar with, such as using collections in the Manuscript Division. It is such a pleasure to work with them to overcome their hesitancy, and then a feeling of pride when they provide feedback about how rewarding their experience at the Library has been.
What’s one thing you’d like to tell teachers about the materials that you work with, the Library’s collections, or about the Library?
The Library of Congress is your library and there are so many ways you can interact with it and be impacted by it. The physical buildings as well as the Library’s web site can feel a bit impenetrable and complex, but the staff is excited to share their expertise and help navigate both the online and physical spaces. Visitors are often surprised to find out that they can actually use the Library for their own research into their family, for school assignments, and to enhance and enrich the knowledge they may already have about any topic. Efforts are always underway to make the Library and its resources more accessible, engaging, and useful to our users.