Monday Marvels

I’ve finally finished Parts I and II of the collection and have started to process Part III! Before starting to post all of the wonderful things that will inevitably show up in Part III, I thought it would be nice to show some materials from Part I of the collection one more time. After all, people like to look at old stuff, and Part I goes back an entire century!

The original finding aid for Part I, which was written in the 1970s, was very bare-bones. For hundreds of containers, only the first and last folders were listed on the finding aid, and almost no date ranges were included. Because of this, I requested that the entirety of Part I be brought to my work area for easy access and heavily edited the container list by physically going through every folder in approximately 500 of the 757 boxes. I’ll write more about editing the Part I finding aid later – now I want to talk about one of the great joys of going through these materials and the original finding aid, which was discovering folders with really fun headings! Some of the best headings were in the Dictionary of American Biography (DAB) series, where the folder titles were often just the names of people who were (or weren’t) included in the DAB. My personal favorite is the folder for States Rights Gist (1831-1864), who was recommended for the DAB but not included in the final publication:

“The seventh son and ninth child of Nathaniel and Elizabeth (McDaniel) Gist, States Rights Gist was born in Union County, S. C., and named for his father’s political creed.”

What a conversation starter! Here’s the folder:

States Rights Gist - folder

The first page of the finished article is an interesting read, and has some fantastic penmanship where there are last-minute extra edits:

Edited article - States Rights Gist

The article draft, though, is even more interesting – this is one of the reasons archives are so important, because they can give you a glimpse into the writing and editing process (something many of us are worried about with the ubiquity of computers and ease of deleting one draft as you save the next). Here are both pages of the draft:

Draft article - States Rights Gist, page 1

Draft article - States Rights Gist, page 2

Some other names in the DAB series of which I am particularly fond:

Caesar Confucius Antoine
Smedley Darlington Butler
Wilberforce Eames
Percival Farquhar
Percy Scott Flippin
Alfred Habdank Korzybski
Walter Learned
Jones Lie
Charles S. Little
Ivan Ivanovich Ostromislensky
Epaphroditus Ransom
William Franklin Gore Shanks
Willard Walter Waller

Many of these people were included in the DAB, and many have Wikipedia pages – go ahead and look them up!


Tuesday Treasures

There was a snow day yesterday, so I was unable to post the regular Monday Marvels entry for this week — instead you will get Tuesday Treasures!

Before we start to physically process a collection, us archivists like to spend some time researching the creators of that collection. Sometimes this means reading biographies of people or finding books about the projects they’ve completed. Sometimes it means studying the history of an organization by reading any books, articles, and dissertations that mention that organization. We find out as much as we can about the context of the collection in order to understand it in a way that will allow us to process it more efficiently and accurately.

Once we’ve completed the initial research with secondary sources (or, on occasion, primary sources outside of the collection), our best way to find out more is through the collection itself. For example, I found a chart in Part I that told me when the original volumes of the Dictionary of American Biography were published. I have been able to determine the rough time periods of employment for some major figures in ACLS history, and used the collection itself to find the full names of many organizations and committees that are often referred to by acronyms.

Last week I came across a quite useful document: a (very) brief history of the ACLS written by Mortimer Graves, who was the Executive Director of the organization from 1953 to 1957. Written in the Post-World War II era, this paper says a lot about the organization and how it was shaped by the events of the early 20th century. I love finding things like this, because they allow me to gain insight into the organization from the very people who have run it. I’ll just post the first few pages here – if you’d like to read more, come to the Library of Congress and ask for box E60 in Part I of the collection! As always, Graves has a beautiful style of prose here that is quite a joy to read.

Graves ACLS History page 1Graves ACLS History page 2Graves ACLS History page 3

Later, Graves talks about various major ACLS projects, as well as the organization’s relationship with its constituent societies. He mentions that the concerns of the organization eventually branched out to cover more than just research: “training, development, implementation, and communication,” to name a few areas. Perhaps the most interesting part of this history is his take on how the organization was shaped by both World War I and World War II, leading to programs focused on countries and languages around the world.

What a useful tool, and a treasure to boot.

Monday Marvels

Do you like art? Maybe a better question would be whether there are people who don’t like art – between visual arts, creative writing, dance, film, music, and all of the other art forms out there, there’s a lot to like! I love it (full disclosure: both my middle school and my high school focused on art), and I always stand behind the idea of the government giving more funding to arts programs, especially those in educational facilities.

Do you know who else liked art? William Ainsworth Parker, former Secretary for Fellowships with the ACLS. In 1954, the American government was debating H.R. 9111, which Parker described as “the most comprehensive attempt in recent years to increase the participation of the Federal Government in a program for the arts.” This description is from his supportive statement to the U.S. House of Representatives on June 8th, 1954. At a time when some people were arguing against arts funding because it might end up going to left-leaning anti-Americans, Parker argued just the opposite: “…it would also provide a positive answer to Communist propaganda against this nation.” What better way to let the world see the spirit of America than through its art?

A democracy which from the outside appears to be machined and spiritless will not win converts or friends. This nation, in all of its diversity, is a living ideal to less fortunate men and women in other countries. For our own sakes, we must turn a spirited face towards the peoples of the world.

Well said, Mr. Parker.

This statement shows that the ACLS has long held a place of importance in American society – enough importance that a representative of the organization was asked to speak in front of the House, and the organization itself was asked to be “one of the agencies assigned responsibility for submitting recommendations to the President concerning positions on the proposed National War Memorial Arts Commission, on the Commission of Fine Arts, and on the Smithsonian Art Commission.”

Of course we still see people arguing today about whether the government should play a role in arts funding, so this is a pertinent topic even now. What do you think? Would you have supported H.R. 9111?

Parker's testimony - page 1

Parker’s testimony – page 1

Parker's testimony - page 2

Parker’s testimony – page 2


Tuesday Treasures

Welcome to another exciting week, everyone! Hope you are all safe and well after the intense weather last week. Because of the holiday yesterday (Presidents’ Day), I wasn’t at work to post my usual Monday Marvels — so instead, you get Tuesday Treasures!

As I’ve probably mentioned previously, one of my jobs during this project is to edit the finding aid for Part I of the collection, which was first processed in the 1970s. There’s a lot of work to be done during this editing, so I’m getting the chance to be fairly hands-on with the materials, which is great news – I’m finding some really interesting things to post about!

Working with older documents, you can get easily wrapped up in the language. I mentioned last week that language evolves over time, which is absolutely true. Think of how most people communicate through the written word these days – emails are probably the longest things most of us write on a daily (or even weekly) basis. We surround ourselves with short snippets of conversation elsewhere – text messages, Facebook status updates, and Twitter feeds. Written communication seems to me to be much different than it was in decades past, and the enchantment I feel while reading old letters only makes me more aware of this.

A large portion of the materials in Part I are related to the Dictionary of American Biography (DAB), a huge ACLS-sponsored project which ran from the 1920s to the 1990s. The point of the project was to provide biographies for important historical figures, all of whom had resided in the United States at one point or another. The original DAB was published in 20 volumes between 1928 and 1936 (though the committee for the project was first appointed in 1921). Supplementary volumes were published between 1944 and 1995 including biographies of people who had passed away after the first volumes were completed. The DAB was an invaluable tool to scholars for decades, and was succeeded by another ACLS-sponsored project: American National Biography (ANB), first published in 1999 in 24 volumes and still going strong today.

Within the DAB materials, I found a folder titled “Johnsonian letters.” From the few documents in this folder, it is apparent that Allen Johnson (an early editor of the DAB) wrote delightful letters. I’d like to share a few with you here.

Some of them are sweet, letting you know what kind of person Mr. Johnson might have been:

Johnson: Letter 2

This rejection letter for someone hoping their father would be included in the DAB is extraordinarily polite and also (probably inadvertently) funny – he is clearly concerned about hurting people’s feelings!

Johnson - Letter

Sometimes Mr. Johnson’s tone could be biting, though – I like this one a lot for what it can teach us about gender dynamics in the 1920s:


Harsher still is this letter – though clearly able to be sympathetic when the occasion called for it (as seen in the rejection letter above), Mr. Johnson was also able to let someone know when he was unhappy with their professional attitude:

Johnson - Letter 4

That should do it for today. One might say that these letters speak for themselves – very clearly, and with a full range of emotions behind them.

Monday Marvels

Sometimes working with documents from the past can give you a deeper understanding of today’s world, allowing you to see how certain terms originated or how specific types of work have changed over time. Such is the case with the documents I chose for this week’s Monday Marvels entry.

In English (and surely this is true in other languages, as well), we often use words and phrases that originated decades or years before they evolved into their current meaning. That’s right: language evolves! You can see a recent example of language evolution in the Oxford English Dictionary’s definition of literally, which now includes the following:

c. colloq. Used to indicate that some (freq. conventional) metaphorical or hyperbolical expression is to be taken in the strongest admissible sense: ‘virtually, as good as’; (also) ‘completely, utterly, absolutely’

…which was not in the 1989 second edition. That’s right, ‘literally’ now literally also means ‘virtually.’ Who would’ve thought?

We also use a lot of words, phrases, and images that originated out of now-antiquated actions, tasks, or objects. This is especially true in the world of computing. When you’re writing a document in Microsoft Word, how do you save it? You might hit Ctrl+S, but you could just as easily click on the “save” icon. What does that icon represent? A floppy disk, of course!

Floppy disks - photo by George Chernilevsky via WikipediaFloppy disks – photo by George Chernilevsky via Wikipedia

Looks familiar, right? It pains me to think that some of you reading this might never have had to actually use a floppy disk to save your work – most of us who were alive and using computers in the ’90s probably still have a few of these (or boxes of them!) laying around at home, waiting to be rediscovered.*

How does this all tie in with the ACLS collection?

Surely you’ve used the phrases “cut and paste” or “copy and paste” while working with word documents. It seems obvious, but the reason we use these phrases is that people actually used to cut (or copy and cut) up documents and paste (or staple) them back together in a new order while editing. I’ve found this in the ACLS collection in a number of folders, and wanted to share one with you:

Text was cut up and physically rearranged during the editing process before computers.

This document is a great example of how archival collections allow us to see the evolution of a document: from the beginning stages through the editing process and finally on to the finished product. This is immensely helpful to researchers, and I fear it is largely being lost in the age of computers where a simple keystroke can replace one edit with another without providing any documentation whatsoever of the changes that have taken place. Food for thought: if you expect to send your papers on to an archival repository someday, please think about saving drafts as well as final versions!

As an added bonus, here is an example from the ACLS collection of how people sometimes used to put footnotes into their work:

A pre-computer age footnote.

Beautiful, right? I’m a big lover of footnotes in general (cite your sources!), having spent so much time writing papers in the Chicago Manual of Style format – so I loved finding this in the collection.

Have a great week, everyone! Enjoy your archives!


* I hesitate to go into the details of personal archiving and the fragility inherent in electronic documents (both in terms of physical storage and format) because that’s not even just another can of worms; it’s a whole world of them. I’ll post about electronic records at some point in the future, but know this: if you still have old important documents on outdated media (floppy disks, for example) and you know you will need or want to access them at some point in the near or far future, you’ll want to transfer them as soon as possible, assuming they can even be opened and read at this point.


Monday Marvels

It’s time for your weekly dose of something interesting from the ACLS archives! This week, I’m going to keep it short and sweet. Occasionally we archivists find something in a collection that makes us chuckle – this was one of those times. While physically processing the second part of the collection, I came across this stack of articles:

"How many copies should we print?"

“How many copies should we print?”


From the bottom of the first page, it looks like this was printed in Scholarly Publishing in October of 1977. “How many copies should we print?” by Nazir A. Bhagat and Robert A. Forrest is related to the National Enquiry into Scholarly Communication.* The italic text under the title reads:

A procedure is outlined for determining the optimal print run based on publishing experience, by estimating and minimizing probable costs. Tests indicate it can save both printing and storage costs.

Considering how many of these I found in the collection, I definitely had a bit of a laugh after reading this first page. This type of thing (finding numerous duplicates of one document) is absolutely normal, particularly in more modern collections, but is especially funny in this instance because of the article’s topic. So, what did I do? I took a few photographs, put all but one copy into disposition, and went on with my processing to find more fun things. If you ever want to read it, there’s a single copy in the collection for your researching pleasure!


* You can read more about this at the ACLS “On Our History” webpage in the last paragraph under “Exploring New Methods and Subjects of Humanities Research.”

How Many Copies Should We Print?

Monday Marvels

Ask an archivist why they were first drawn to the field, and there’s a good chance they’ll tell you it was because of the stuff.* Many of us are interested in history and like the idea of combing through collections of papers during the work week: finding unique documents, discovering previously unknown stories involving real people and events, even just smelling the delightful scent of decaying paper (yes, that’s what you’re smelling when you step into a building with lots of old books). When you get down to business, archival collections are full of fun things. So I was thinking, what better way to give this blog a much-needed kick than to highlight at least one fun thing from the ACLS collection every week?

Here’s your first Monday Marvel – let it serve as a pick-me-up at the beginning of the week!

Letter from Stanley N. Katz to Kevin Guthrie in which Katz mentions JSTOR - in 1996!

Letter from Stanley N. Katz to Kevin Guthrie in which Katz mentions JSTOR – in 1996!

If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you might remember that I once wrote about how the ACLS has a history of embracing technology. I mentioned in that entry that I’d found some letters related to JSTOR, and here is one of them for your viewing pleasure! For those of you who aren’t familiar with JSTOR, which was founded in 1995, it’s a huge digital library where people can search for books, journal articles, and primary sources. Simply put, if you’ve done scholarly research in the past decade and a half, you’ve probably used JSTOR. I remember it as one of the few databases I knew about and used as an undergraduate, so I was really excited to find this letter in the ACLS collection.

There are a few things of interest here:

  • It’s from Stanley N. Katz (ACLS president from 1986 to 1997) to Kevin Guthrie (founding JSTOR president and now president of ITHAKA)
  • It’s dated March 1st, 1996 – very early in the life of the database!
  • In the letter, Katz responds to Guthrie’s request asking him to view a demonstration of JSTOR. Imagine seeing such cutting-edge technology as it’s still being developed! Of course Katz said yes; who wouldn’t?

Kevin Guthrie’s original letter is also in the collection, but you’ll have to come to the Library of Congress to see it. I’d love to post it (Guthrie has fantastic penmanship), but need to abide by copyright laws for obvious reasons!

There you have it – one small reason why archives are awesome. Happy Monday!

* Disclaimer: It’s true that many people get into the field for different reasons, and lots of archivists become even more enthralled with their work as they start to embrace other facets of it (outreach, reference, exhibit work, controlled vocabulary, collaboration efforts, preservation and conservation, appraisal, digitization, crowdsourcing, ethical and legal issues, records management, and oral history are just a few topics that come to mind here).

A note of appreciation

You might have noticed me mention Louise Medby as an extraordinary former ACLS assistant back in August. Here is the photo caption that I posted at that time:

…you can see here the excellent filing arrangements of Jason Parker’s assistant Louise Medby. To all of you ultra-organized records managers and assistants out there: thank you!

I wanted to take a moment to extend that thanks by writing an ode. Ms. Medby’s work has been an inspiration to me throughout my time at this job, and it has always been a joy to process the records with which she worked. Her labels are clear and full of detail: every archivist’s dream! She sometimes included notes to highlight and explain the contents of folders, and went well above and beyond what her normal duties presumably were. I have no doubt that this collection will be much easier to research because of her diligence. Not all assistants work with such enthusiasm, but most are underappreciated regardless. Where would we be without them? So here it is – to all those out there who work hard to keep things in order:

Ode to Organized Assistants

O organizers radiant, your power to enthrall
With legacy of great detail, you leave these files ablaze
What gusto! Manage files and notes for projects large and small
I humbly give my thanks to you, and shower you with praise

O secretaries, ’tis for you, admin assistants too
The folders you create and mark and lovingly arrange
Are labeled with a date and place, assigned a lovely hue –
Your color coded masterpieces never do estrange!

You make the world a better place, us archivists agree
The notes you leave inside the files, the explanations of
What happened here, what did occur, they always guarantee
That history will be kept true, and shine as from above

So thank you, wondrous workers all, you always persevere
Keep up with vast demands and trials, your standards never skewed
You make our lives much easier, so now we volunteer
A recognition of great deeds, kind thoughts and gratitude!

Intellectual processing and trips to New York: An update

It’s been too long since I’ve updated this blog, so I figured it would be good to start writing again by filling you all in on what’s been going on with the processing of the collection. A lot of people I know have been asking me how the government shutdown affected me, if at all. The upside: because I’m an employee of the ACLS and not the Library of Congress, I was able to continue working through the shutdown. The downside: I was not able to come in to the Library to continue physically processing the collection. Luckily, I had almost completed the physical processing of Part II by the time the shutdown hit, so I hunkered down at home and started doing some intellectual processing – that is to say, I started working on editing the finding aids for the collection.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with archival terminology, a finding aid is a catalog entry for an archival collection. Because finding aids are meant to describe entire collections (which can range from one item to millions of items), they are usually much more detailed than any catalog entry you will find for a book. The amount of detail in a finding aid can vary widely between repositories and collections, but often included are:

  • the title, dates, creator(s), size, format(s), and language(s) of the collection
  • information about the origins of the collection and the history of its physical custody (what we call provenance)
  • notes about how the collection was processed
  • information about copyright, access, and restrictions
  • a biographical or organizational history of the creator(s)
  • a scope and content note, which gives a narrative description of what is included in the collection and highlights important aspects of it
  • an itemized list of what is in the collection – often broken down by folder, but sometimes by box (less detailed) or item (more detailed)

Just to recap some basic information: Right now, the ACLS collection has three parts (Part I, Part II, and Part III), which are roughly broken down chronologically (though there is quite a bit of overlap). Part I was already processed when Caroline, my predecessor, arrived. Caroline started the processing work for Part II, and I continued it when she passed the torch on to me. The last part of my work will include processing Part III  and working with the ACLS on how to organize and maintain the records currently being produced in order to transfer them to the Library of Congress in the future (this will be focused heavily on electronic [born digital] records).

While working from home, I wanted to go over the finding aid for Part I. One of my jobs is to edit and finalize this document, and to make sure that it fits well with the finding aids for Parts II and III:

Part I Finding Aid

I also started reworking the finding aid for Part II, which is being created via Excel. This is a fairly new approach to large organizational collections at the Library, and has only been used in one collection previously (you can view that finding aid here, if you’re interested in seeing it). The benefit of using a spreadsheet format is that researchers will be able to intellectually sort through the materials in any way that works best for them: instead of having a rigid document with everything in one specific order decided by the archivist, the document is fluid and changeable according to user needs. Here’s a very simple example – the normal breakdown of the ACLS finding aid will look something like this:

Unsorted spreadsheet

As you can see, the series are split up by the subseries, and then those subseries are broken down further by folder title (there’s one more level of detail in the finding aid for this collection, but let’s keep this simple for now). Let’s say that a researcher wanted to find all of the speeches and lectures by all ACLS Presidents, though – it would be much easier for that researcher if the finding aid were organized by folder title rather than subseries. With a spreadsheet, the researcher can make that happen through the sort function – in Excel, that’s the button that looks like this:

Sort function

Sorted spreadsheet

With a finding aid that has hundreds or thousands of lines, the option to sort the collection in different ways could make things much easier for a researcher.

I realized a few things while looking through the finding aids for Parts I and II. First, I will need to go through the materials in Part I and rework the finding aid so that it is more detailed and more well-matched with the descriptions for the other two parts of the collection. This will take time, but all of my supervisors agreed with me that it was worth the extra time and effort to have a more comprehensive document for researchers to use. Second, I will need to spend a lot of time editing the existing spreadsheet for Part II, which is what has been taking up the bulk of my time over the past month.

Because spreadsheets are (as I mentioned before) a fairly new way of describing collections here, we’re still trying to figure out the best way to approach them. Some of the questions I’ve been asking myself are relevant for any collection (how much detail should I include in the description?), while others are specific to the spreadsheet format (how should I break this down – one row per box? one row per folder?). Before I started editing it, most of the spreadsheet was broken down per box – that is to say, there was one row entered for every box. I realized a few weeks after starting this job that this would make it very difficult for researchers to sort the spreadsheet – for example, if one box has speeches, correspondence, and articles from Stanley Katz’s office, those three types of materials each need their own row on the spreadsheet. Some boxes have only correspondence in them, and only need to take up one row. Some have twelve different types of documents in them, and need twelve rows. Much of my time during and since the shutdown has been spent adding extra rows to the spreadsheet in order to separate materials in this way. Each time I break down one row (one box) into multiple rows (multiple types of documents in one box), I need to pull that box from the shelves and look through it to find the date range and number of folders for each row. So on the spreadsheet, the description goes from this:

Box level spreadsheet

To this:

Folder level spreadsheet

As you can imagine, this will make it much easier for researchers to use the spreadsheet for sorting, which is exactly why we’ve decided to use the spreadsheet format in the first place! With more than 900 boxes that were described in a “one box, one row” way, it’s taking a lot of time to do this. On the upside, I am learning what I need to do with Part III in order to make everything flow more smoothly, and hopefully researchers will find the collection much easier to use – in short, everyone wins.

In addition to spending time figuring out what to do with the finding aids, I took two trips to New York during the shutdown. The first trip was just for a day, which was enough for me to meet some ACLS employees (they are all wonderful!) and go over some major talking points regarding the collection. During this meeting, we talked about the finding aids for Parts I and II, went over some thoughts about future plans, and decided that I should return to New York the following week to do some initial weeding of the Part III materials. The boxes for Part III are still in the ACLS warehouse in New Jersey, but will be sent to the Library of Congress very soon. Some of these materials will not be included in the collection, however, and sending them to the Library only to send them back to New Jersey would be a hassle. I was able to separate the Part III inventory into three categories: 1) boxes to send to the Library of Congress, 2) boxes to keep in the New Jersey warehouse, and 3) boxes that would need to be looked at for further review. The third category included boxes with non-detailed descriptions as well as those that contained a mix of materials that should be sent to the Library and materials that should stay in New Jersey.

The Part III inventory originally included 401 transfiles (boxes which are approximately the size of filing cabinet drawers). Of these, we had 49 pulled out of storage for me to physically sort. It took me a few days to go through them (that’s a lot of material!), but was well worth the effort. I moved a lot of folders from one box to another, took a lot of notes, did a lot of relabeling, and ultimately ended up with 25 transfiles that would be sent to the Library and 24 that would not. Here are some photos documenting my sorting adventures:

The perils of leaving empty space in a box: folders fall over, papers slide out, things get jumbled.

The perils of leaving empty space in a box: folders fall over, papers slide out, things get jumbled.

To be sent to the Library of Congress – the yellow note on the right gives details about extra materials that I pulled from other boxes and put into this one.

To be sent to the Library of Congress – the yellow note on the right gives details about extra materials that I pulled from other boxes and put into this one.

The boxes I physically sorted through in the New Jersey warehouse – sometimes being an archivist means you get to partake in weightlifting activities.

The boxes I physically sorted through in the New Jersey warehouse – sometimes being an archivist means you get to partake in weightlifting activities.

At the end of my week in New York / New Jersey, I had decided along with ACLS staff that 265 transfiles should be sent to the Library to make up Part III of the collection while 136 should stay behind in the New Jersey warehouse. That’s some serious weeding!

So where are we now? I am continuing to edit the finding aid for Part II, and will be editing the finding aid for Part I after that’s completed. In addition to creating these finding aids in a spreadsheet format, I’ll be transferring them over to a standard word document for researchers who are more comfortable with that and also using Encoded Archival Description to make them easier to find through search engines like Google. The aim is to have Parts I and II completely finished and available to the public by the end of the calendar year. Exciting times ahead!

The Madison Building: Library or office space?

You might know from reading Caroline’s blog post about the beginnings of the James Madison Memorial Building that former ACLS President Dr. Frederick Burkhardt was an important player in helping secure the Madison Building for the Library of Congress when the plans were first developed. What you might not know (until now!) is that former ACLS Executive Associate James N. Settle fought for the Library to retain its claim on the building when some members of the House wanted to take it over as another office building in the mid-1970s.

I found a folder devoted to this debate, of which I was previously unaware. A newspaper clipping in the front of the folder explains the situation: the building was being coveted by members of the House as a prime piece of real estate that could add to their office space. The author states that the move to take space from the Library of Congress is awful, as “there is both real and symbolic grandeur to that institution and what it represents.” This editorial, published by the Washington Star on November 26, 1975 (if the handwritten note in the corner is correct), is absolutely scathing.

When ACLS’ James N. Settle heard about this, he sent out a call to arms:

Many of you have undoubtedly heard that before the end of December an attempt will be made, within the House of Representatives, to convert for use as an additional congressional office building the Library of Congress James Madison Memorial Building scheduled for completion in 1980…I assume that scholars in all disciplines share the alarm with which we view this threatened loss of desperately needed space for the Library of Congress. If you are willing to participate in an effort to save the Madison Library building for its intended purpose, I suggest that you write to your own Congressman and perhaps, for reinforcement, to your two Senators – and that you urge appropriate colleagues to join you in the effort.

This impassioned letter obviously found the right audience, and Executive Associate Settle got replies from many people who were equally disturbed by the idea. Richard S. Kirkendall, Executive Secretary for the Organization of American Historians, sent Settle an update just a week later:

This office has been dominated by the issue of the Library of Congress for the past week. We have been bombarding our members as well as Members of Congress, getting a good response from our members.

Settle even received a response from (now former) Librarian of Congress Daniel J. Boorstin on December 17th, 1975:

I appreciate the support of the American Council of Learned Societies of the Library of Congress and its occupancy of the Madison Building. As you no doubt have read in the press, the tide seems to have waned. Our next step is to obtain final authorization. I trust you will also support us in this endeavor. Many thanks.

It’s wonderful to see that ACLS leaders continually played such a large part in advocating for the Library of Congress to have extra space in Washington. Another document in the folder titled “Facts about the Library of Congress James Madison Memorial Building” outlines the reasons that the Library should be able to keep the building: at the time, the Library was in the dire position of splitting up their staff and collections in 10 locations outside of its existing two permanent locations on the National Mall (the Jefferson Building and Adams Building). Staff members were working in areas not suitable for working conditions, and collections were increasingly being sent off-site, which made it difficult for researchers to get them in a timely manner. On top of this, the Madison Building was designed specifically for Library needs, with very few windows available as well as large storage areas that would be inappropriate for offices. The argument ends on a strong note:

Conversion to general office space would cost millions of dollars, further delay in completing the building, and Library staff and collections would have to be further dispersed resulting in deterioration of service to the Congress and the public to say nothing about the danger to the collections which constitute the cultural heritage of this Nation.

It’s certainly hard to argue with that.

Also interesting is “The Collections at the Library of Congress,” which illustrates the importance of the Library while also showing its serious need for more space. At the time this was printed, the Library held more than 74 million items. Assuming this was published around the same time as all of the other documents in the folder (1975), it’s incredible to compare it to the numbers offered on the Library’s website today:

The Library of Congress is the largest library in the world, with more than 155.3 million items on approximately 838 miles of bookshelves. The collections include more than 35 million books and other print materials, 3.4 million recordings, 13.6 million photographs, 5.4 million maps, 6.5 million pieces of sheet music and 68 million manuscripts.

It’s a good thing they were able to keep the Madison Building!

Obviously the members of the House who wanted to take over the Madison Building for House office space were unsuccessful, but think of what would have happened if they hadn’t been. It is “one of the three largest public buildings in the Washington, D.C. area,” and it’s in a prime location right at the end of the National Mall (and right next to the other two Library of Congress buildings). At this point, that area is pretty much filled up with buildings, so there’s no space to build more. The Library still has off-site storage, but the space in the Madison Building allows them to keep an enormous part of their collections very close to where most of the Library’s reading rooms are located. This means that researchers (including members of Congress!) get the materials they need much more quickly, as materials stored off-site need to be transferred and should be requested in advance.

What another great way to tie the ACLS and Library of Congress together.