From Publishers Weekly
Founded in 1800 as a resource for lawmakers, the Library of Congress is one of the greatest libraries in existence, with more than 110 million items in holding, including books in 450 different languages, national documents and art works. Conaway (The Smithsonian) investigates the Library's history from the vantage point of the 13 Librarians of Congress, to illustrate how their experiences and contributions have reflected political and intellectual developments in the U.S. Several Librarians of Congress stayed on for decades, dedicating their lives to the institution. The first, John J. Beckley, appointed in 1802 by President Thomas Jefferson, was confronted with an enormous challenge when the original collection was engulfed in flames during the British's burning of the Capitol by the British in 1812. Aimsworth Rand Spofford, appointed by Abraham Lincoln, succeeded in securing copyright deposit at the Library, thus ensuring its place as the national repository. Appointed by William McKinley, Herbert Putnam made the cataloging system available to U.S. libraries, while Archibald MacLeish, appointed by Franklin D. Roosevelt, established the Library as an important cultural center through his acquisitions and literature programs. The current Librarian of Congress, James H. Billington, appointed by Ronald Reagan, has made a good portion of the collection available electronically. This is an engrossing and comprehensive read, as much a history of the people who made the Library of Congress what it is today--a library to the world--as it is a rich chronicle of the magnificent institution. 100 b&w and 12 color illus. (May)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.
The venerable Library of Congress, source of pride and source of perplexity for America's librarians, has reached its bicentennial. Since its inception in 1800 with the gift to the U.S. of Thomas Jefferson's personal book collection, the library's expansion has paralleled that of the nation it serves. Often opportunistic, driven by political as well as social and educational goals, the Library of Congress has grown on a vast, exuberant scale into the world's premier repository of the printed word. Conaway has chosen to organize his history of this institution around that tiny, hardy band of men and women who have used both political acumen and intellectual vision to build the library's collections and establish those services that make the LC library to both Congress and nation. Richly supplemented with photographs, this history reaches out to touch all who love libraries, not just professional scholars and librarians. Conaway's prose flows smoothly, avoiding jargon and placing the library's history in the context of the nation's development. Mark Knoblauch
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