Monday Marvels

While processing collections, archivists occasionally come across documents related to someone who was very famous, powerful, or important in some way. We say that these items have intrinsic value – that is to say, the item is important partially because of its physical characteristics, and a photocopy of it would not offer the same type of value. We look for many types of value in archives; this is one that describes very specific types of materials. For example, a check signed by Louis Armstrong would have intrinsic value because of its physical association with the jazz legend. An actual signature on a document touched by someone with that amount of historical influence would normally be something that people would think is worth keeping, even if they would dispose of a very similar item signed by someone else.

Many times the value we search for is informational in nature – what can people learn from this document? Might anyone be interested in using it as part of a research project in the future? What does it tell us about a specific person or event, and how does that fit in with the larger picture of society in this time period? Sometimes, though, it’s great just to find something that was read by or written to someone with a big name; someone you’ve read about in school or seen on television, or someone you greatly admire for their actions and accomplishments.

The following document doesn’t strictly fall into the realm of intrinsic value (it’s debatable, anyway), but it was written by the ACLS to someone quite well-known: President Lyndon B. Johnson. This letter, written by former ACLS President R. M. Lumiansky, thanks President Johnson for his strong backing of the arts and humanities.

1967.03.01 Letter to LBJ

I suspect the special message to Congress mentioned is the one here; it’s dated just a few days before this letter was written. In this special message, President Johnson asks Congress to approve a $16 million budget for the National Foundation on the Arts and Humanities, increasing it almost one-third from the previous budget.

It’s always wonderful to see people in power fighting for arts and humanities funding. Although the President did not personally write back to the ACLS, there is a response from his office thanking the organization for its support.


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.

Get Smart: Political Advocacy and the US Government

In the past few weeks, news stories about Congress’ decisions regarding the federal budget have permeated the wires. In Washington, DC, I’m probably susceptible to a higher rate of these conversations. I don’t think I’ve ever used the term sequestration in my life. And these days, I find myself saying it casually over coffee, or on the way to the post office. I’ve learned the procedures associated with agency-wide budget cuts and I’ve listened to the outcry from other government agencies on the difficulties of operating under these circumstances. But, I’m not here to discuss the pitfalls of our economic status.

I deal in archives, so let’s get to it!

I always say that collections speak to archivists. Materials tell us stories, they maintain an order and a sequence. We just have to listen to them. More accurately, we have to survey the materials and consider the following questions: how were they used, why were they arranged in this manner, what’s missing, what kind of connections can be made, where are the ‘like’ materials? In my few years of experience, it has become clear that rare manuscripts are coded with information that guide archivists in the arrangement and description process. It’s like DNA, but without the double-helix, the hard science or the biological implications for humanity. So, I guess it’s actually not at all like DNA.

And sometimes, materials pop up at the perfect time!

So, it didn’t come as a surprise when I opened a frayed box this week to reveal materials documenting ACLS’s relationship with Congress. In fact, most of the correspondence stuffed in these folders included positive exchanges among elected officials, members of ACLS and other community groups. Essentially, these folders are evidence of the government…working…well! Which felt like a breath of air albeit stale air from the 1960s, but air nonetheless!

During Dr. Frederick Burhardt’s tenure as President, ACLS was involved in several projects that informed bills authored by elected officials and brought to vote. In 1961, Charles Blitzer, the Executive Associate of ACLS, also communicated on behalf of the organization. Surveying the letterhead alone provides some understanding of the breadth of influence ACLS had on current political decisions. In the early 1960s alone, Burkhardt and Blitzer had consistent communication with:

  • Committee on Foreign Relations
  • Committee on Labor and Public Welfare
  • Committee on the Judiciary
  • Committee on Education and Labor
  • SubCommittee on Arts and Humanities

In this time period, ACLS’s advocacy can be seen most clearly in their strong voice for raising educational standards in this country and opening the doors to international studies.

Higher Education Act 

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A prime illustration of the important and unique voice that ACLS brought to the political arena can be seen in the authoring, lobbying and eventual passage of the Higher Education Act intended to “strengthen the educational resources of our colleges and universities and to provide financial assistance for students in post-secondary and higher education” with a special consideration to international studies. It’s this last part, broadening the educational scope globally, that Burkhardt and Blitzer were most interested in shepherding into law.

In 1961, Blitzer began the process of reaching out to elected officials in the House to express his concern for a “lack of any new higher education legislation of the 87th Congress. In his statement, above, he urges the academic community to “do a more effective job” in getting the attention of Congress as a way to garner support.

Four years later, in 1965, Burkhardt worked with several members of the Committee on Education and Labor, Special Subcommittee on Education to provide information on the Higher Education Bill [H.R. 9567, you can read more about the Bill and the voting records of those elected officials in the House here and the Senate here. And, if you are so inclined, here is the Bill itself.]

International Education Act

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The manuscript folders also contain a flurry of materials dealing with the International Educational Act of 1966, a bill with “strong bipartisan support” that represents the first major funding for international education. The Johnson Administration can be credited with adding a “world dimension to our quickening national effort on education (Gerald Read, 406).” The bill’s features including “stimulating exchanges of students and teachers overseas and include school-to-school partnerships, a reciprocal Peace Corps, and assistance to potential leaders from abroad studying in this country (AAA, 1966).” You can read the bill here.

On April 4 of that same year, Burkhardt spoke before the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Education and Labor. His 5-page testimony included some prescient remarks. He noted,

The strengthened undergraduate programs will provide better prepared graduates and eventually will strengthen the corps of expertise needed by our universities and colleges and by government and industry.


Not the least educational effect of studying other cultures is the new perspectives and insights furnished into our own.


We have the illusion that we are familiar with Europe because the European tradition appeals in so much of our liberal arts programs as part of our own heritage, but we may be living in the past–the new Europe now emerging will well repay study as a unitary cultural region, using the methods which work in other area studies.

Considering recent articles like this one force us to consider the state of higher education today, Burkhardt’s and Blitzer’s voices in these discussions proved important in shaping the landscape of knowledge in the US and abroad and helped to crystallize global exchange programs from which we continue to benefit.


American Anthropological Association, Fellows Newsletter. Vol. 7, No. 6 (June 1966).

Thanks to Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division for use of “Historic American Buildings Survey…” photograph used in this post. You can find it here.

Gerald Read. “The International Educational Act of 1966.” The Phi Delta Kappan , Vol. 47, No. 8 (Apr., 1966), pp. 406-409. Published by: Phi Delta Kappa International