This post was written by Julie Stoner 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 a reference librarian in the Geography and Map Division, my main job is to help researchers find what they are looking for. We have the largest cartographic collection in the world with over 5.5 million items including maps, globes, atlases, and reference books, which can make the job daunting at times! I work the reference desk to help researchers at the Library but I also help online patrons by answering Ask-A-Librarian questions. I also help run the division’s social media through our blog, Worlds Revealed, and our Twitter feed, @LOCMaps. And I’m always looking for ways to make accessing our collections easier, such as through creating finding aids and reference guides.
Do you have a favorite item from the Library’s online collections? Why is it your favorite item?
I always find this a hard question since there are so many amazing items in our collections! I really like maps that have an unusual projection or orientation of the world as these make me rethink my own viewpoint. For example, this beautiful 1858 map made in Italy has a south polar projection that I find fascinating. When I look at a map that shows a perspective I am not accustomed to, it helps me remember there is not only one way to view the world and that my horizons can always be expanded.
Share a time when an item from the Library’s collections sparked your curiosity.
One of the great things about working with the collections at the Library is that when you find something that makes you curious, there are so many resources across the institution to help you find answers. At the beginning of the year I came across a map that showed the number of fires from 1910-1912, block by block, in Manhattan. As I was looking over the map, I noticed an extraordinary number of fires within a few block radius and I was instantly curious why that was. I ended up looking through the Library’s map, photo, book, and newspaper collections to figure out that there was an arson ring in the area at that time! I wrote a blog post called Solving a Burning Question which details my findings for anyone interested in the story.
Tell us about a memorable interaction with a patron, K-12 teacher, or student.
One of my favorite things about being a librarian is the moment when a patron tells me, “This is exactly what I was looking for!” I remember a particular researcher who came to the reading room who was doing family history research. She wanted to find the location of a small town in the 18th century that no longer exists, and she could find very little information through her internet searches. With the help of the resources in our division, I was able to find a map from that time period that showed the exact location of the town. She had been searching for this information for a long time and her excitement about finding the location was infectious. I remember being so glad that the Library’s resources were able to help her in that moment.
What’s one thing you’d like to tell readers about the Library?
I find that I regularly have to let people know that you don’t need any kind of special status to do research at the Library. Anyone can use the Library collections! We are here to serve everyone and if you have a question, feel free to ask us. Librarians are happy to help! Specifically in regards to the map collections, we have many items that cannot be found online. So if you do not see what you are looking for online, don’t hesitate to ask us and we can dig into our collections further for you.