Library of Congress Gemma Mitchell


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Presentation on Library of Congress by Gemma Mitchell given at IPS event 2012

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  • The Library was founded in 1800 with the books originally housed within the Capitol Building. However in 1814, the British set fire to the Capitol and 3000 volumes were destroyed. Thomas Jefferson, an avid collector of literature of all kinds, offered his own personal and very large collection of books to start a new library. This caused a lot of controversy at the time, but eventually Congress purchased 6487 books from Jefferson for $24,000 in 1815. Unfortunately, another fire on Christmas Eve of 1851 destroyed two thirds of Jefferson's collection. As time moved on and the collection grew once more, the collection needed to be relocated to a larger facility and in 1897 the Thomas Jefferson Building of the Library of Congress opened. Since then, the Library has tried to rebuild Jefferson’s original collection. Jefferson’s books which survived the Christmas Eve fire are now on display in the library. In addition the library has replaced some of the missing books but some are still to be found. Today, the largest library in the world now has three buildings on Capitol Hill in addition to archives in Virginia. The library has 152 million items within the collection and contains over 800 miles of bookshelves. So I am sure no matter what you are looking for, that you will find it here!
  • A scientist?? In a library?? Were often the words that were uttered to me when I arrived at the Library of Congress. It came as a surprise to many (library staff included) that the Library of Congress have impressive scientific laboratories. I am an analytical and forensic chemist, but in recent years have studied within the cultural heritage science sector. So previous research projects have involved the degradation of paper in books I then went on to look at the characterisation of ancient Egyptian faience. I am now undertaking a PhD, which is one of the very few in the UK that are jointly funded by both arts and science research councils. Because part of my funding was provided by the AHRC I was eligible to apply for this scholarship. So my PhD aims to understand the degradation of plastic objects within the collections of archives and museums.So why did I apply for this scholarship? Well first and foremost was the huge draw of being able to work with world class scientists who have a wealth of experience in cultural heritage and who understand the difficulties associated with having plastics in museum and archive collections. The real key to this scholarship was the chance to use the scientific equipment. The LoC have a particular instrument that was not available to me here in the UK, an instrument that can non-destructively and instantly analyse plastics or any other material for that matter. This particular piece of instrumentation allowed me to rapidly analyse all my samples. I could have analysed them using other techniques at my home institution, but this would have taken months. I was also keen to make use of the vast collection of scientific papers that would be available to me and make use of the plastic collections which would also be available for sampling.
  • People often find the idea of plastics in museums and archives as unusual. But to use the Library as an example, very often more fragile or rare literature is copied on to microfilm (which is a plastic) to make it accessible to people and a result the library now have over five hundred thousand film rolls.The LOC have over 4 million items within the audiovisual collections at their state-of-the-art centre in Culpeper, Virginia. The collection includes sound and video recording, TV and radio broadcasts as well as motion picture film.Some of the most important work that they do here is large scale reformatting of all audiovisual material for future safekeeping. We are already in a situation where playback equipment is obsolete and we must work to copy these older recordings in to a form that can be stored for the future. So you can see some of the earliest sound recordings by Thomas Edison on wax cylinders, later recordings were on shellac records- and shellac in a natural polymer (in other words a plastic) which is secreted by the female lac bug, more recently vinyl (another plastic) was used. Even more modern materials like CDs for both music and data storage have displayed signs of degradation, the disks have delaminated meaning that they can no longer be played. In terms of film collections, early nitrate and even acetate films are notorious for degradation. So, you can see that it is very important that all materials like these must be reformatted for future use.
  • Each scholar is provided with a cubicle for the duration of their stay. Each cubicle has a computer and telephone (local calls only). You can receive international calls, which is useful for when your academic supervisor wants to discuss your progress. But you can make out going calls back home using a phone card which is easy to do.When you arrive you go through a general induction which is useful and you learn how to check the library catalogues. Once you have set up your computer you can start requesting items from the library catalogue and then some kind soul delivers all your books to your Klubicle. You can keep the books for the duration of your stay.
  • Sometimes it may not be possible to deliver a book to your cubicle, for example if the book is too fragile or reference only, then you would go to the designated reading room to access the literature, for example the science and technology reading room. Some of the readings rooms are really ornate and I would highly recommend spending the afternoon in a reading room rather than your cubicle. The main reading room is by far one of the most beautiful rooms and featured in the movie National Treasure, Book of Secrets.Scholars have the extra privilege of being permitted to take books out of the library- only senators and congressmen are allowed to do this. I am not sure how many you are allowed at the one time, but I had at 3 out at the same time.The Kluge centre has senior scholars who are perhaps there on a fellowship and these scholars are regarded as experts in their field. Junior scholars are early career researchers- generally post-docs and lastly there are AHRC scholars who are on a similar level to the junior scholars. The kluge centre is a bit of a melting pot of knowledge, with so many people from different parts of the world studying wide ranging subjects, it is a great place to work. Each cubicle is quite private and you don’t often interact with people, but the Brown Bag Lunch is held one a week. Everyone brings their packed lunch and we sit and chat, senior scholars, junior scholars and staff alike. The senior scholars often given lectures on their work which are open to the public so you can attend them if you wish.You also receive a discount in the library gift shop and the cafeterias. The cafeteria on the top floor of the madison building does some great food and has nice views over DC.
  • Everyone is asked to give a short talk or presentation on their research about half way through their time at the library of congress. These are quite informal and a great opportunity to find out what others are working on, especially if you have just started your scholarship. You can share information, sound ideas off of others and seek guidance from staff at the Kluge Center. The staff in the Kluge Center are fantastic especially Mary Lou, if she can’t answer your query she will certainly direct you to someone who can.The more senior scholars give lectures on their research, which are a bit more formal in nature and are open to the public.As I was working within PRTD I was invited to present my research to the department and to the Chief of Preservation, which was a real honour as he is a very busy man.
  • I had some fantastic opportunities whilst working at the LOC. I received an invitation to attend a reception at the Residence of the British Ambassador. The reception was held in honour of the Chief Scientific Advisor to the UK government (Sir John Beddington), who was visiting the States. I had the pleasure of meeting the British Ambassador and Sir Beddington and had the chance to briefly discuss my project at the LOC.In addition I was invited to a private tour of the United States Capitol and the White House and even caught a glimpse of the President as he left to attend a function.In an attempt to strengthen the links between the LOC and the United States Secret Service and to increase the number of collaborations, we were invited for a private tour of the facilities at the secret service and saw the laboratories and examples of the types of case studies that are normally encountered. I mentioned previously my main reason for applying for this scholarship was to use a piece of analytical equipment at the LoC. Well the Secret Service also had the same instrument as the LoC. So I was very lucky to get to spend the day there and learn from their scientists on how best to use it.
  • I also had the time at weekends and in the evening to view all that DC had to offer. Including many of the monuments and museums and galleries. Which are all free and well worth a visit. I was treated to an extremely mild winter, I was there from the start of January to the end of march and in february had temperatures of over 30 degrees. Which while fantastic, was a bit of a struggle as I had packed clothes which were more suited to the arctic. The mild winter also brought an early spring and the week before I was due to leave the famous cherry blossom festival began early. So the whole of the tidal basin area was wall to wall cherry trees in full bloom, which was really great to see. I also took a trip to New York during the Presidents day Long weekend and had a fantastic time. Everyone has had a different experience, so I urge you to ask any questions that you may have.
  • Would I recommend the International Placement scheme....definitely!! The collections are second to none, the facilities are just fantastic, the scholars in the Kluge Center study a diverse range of subjects and you will always discover something new when you chat to people, the knowledge base at the LOC is great- there will always be someone (staff or scholar who can point you in the right direction in terms of collections etc). Lastly, there is definitely an element of prestige associated with studying at the LOC and this will stand you in good stead for the future.
  • You can imagine my shock when I rode the metro for my first time after having only been in the city 3 days.Seriously though, I wouldn’t say I found any negatives. I had one or two difficulties, one being I found it hard to source accommodation while I was in the UK and secondly, when I did find somewhere the logistics of signing contracts and paying deposits was a little problematic, but it worked out.
  • I would lastly like to thank the AHRC for accepting my proposal and for awarding such an invaluable and rewarding scholarship. I would specifically like to thank Allie for inviting me to speak to you all today and for her help and advice during the lead up to the scholarship.Mary Lou, who is based at the LOC. She is the friendly face who greets you on your first day and is your main contact there.Thanks to all you for coming to hear more about the scholarships that are on offer and I wish you all good luck should you be successful in your application.
  • Library of Congress Gemma Mitchell

    1. 1. AHRC International Placement Scheme The Library of Congress Washington DC Gemma Mitchell
    2. 2. Thomas Jefferson Building
    3. 3. A scientist? In a library?• Analytical and forensic chemist – Background in cultural heritage science• Why did I apply? – LoC have a team of world class scientists – State of the art analytical instrumentation – A vast collection literature and plastic objects – Opportunity to study abroad – Everything in one place
    4. 4. Plastics? In a library?• LC Master Microfilm Collection of 500,000+ film rolls• Audiovisual Collections, which include – Sound and video recordings – TV broadcasts – Motion picture film• LC oversees 4 million film + sound collection items in cold vaults in Culpeper, Virginia.• Obsolete playback equipment means collections at risk
    5. 5. A day in the life of a Kluge Scholar• Each scholar has their own cubicle- or “klubicle” as they are known – Computer – Telephone – Lockable drawers – Ample work space and shelving – Access to printer, scanner and fax machine – WiFi• Search of library catalogues
    6. 6. A day in the life of a Kluge Scholar• Borrowing privileges• Kluge Centre has senior scholars, junior scholars and AHRC scholars• “Brown bag lunch”• Discount in shop and cafeteria
    7. 7. Presenting your research• Work in progress talk (~ 20 min plus 10 min for questions)• Senior scholars give public lectures• Additional opportunities within Preservation, Research and Testing Division (PRTD)
    8. 8. Would I recommend the IPS?• YES!
    9. 9. Would I recommend the IPS?• YES! – Extensive collections – Scholars study a diverse range of subjects – Knowledge base – Prestige
    10. 10. Would I recommend the IPS?• YES!The negatives?
    11. 11. Would I recommend the IPS?• YES!The negatives?• I can only think of one.........
    12. 12. No pants dayon the Metro!!!!
    13. 13. Acknowledgements• AHRC• Allie Brown (AHRC)• Mary Lou Reker (LOC)