HJ-ED-DHJHerald Journal Columns
October 1, 2007, Herald Journal

‘American memory’ library is open 24-7


Are you working late again on an important school history report and you need to have that report completed soon?

Does the first impulse you have include going online to “Google” or “Yahoo” for the information you are trying to find?

As you know the Internet is a large place, with many sources of information and not everything out there on the ‘Net is accurate or trustworthy.

So, besides your local town or school library, where else can we go for information that is reliable and online?

One alternative I would like to talk about is the Library of Congress’ web site.

The Library of Congress web site has an easy URL to remember, it is: http://www.loc.gov.

The Library of Congress is the nation’s oldest federal educational institution and serves as the research arm of Congress. It began in 1800 inside the “new” US Capitol building in Washington DC. Today, it is also the largest library in the world, with millions of books, recordings, photographs, maps, and manuscripts in its collections.

The Library’s mission is to make its resources available and useful to the Congress and the American people. Its purpose is also to sustain and preserve a universal collection of knowledge and creativity for future generations.

“The National Digital Library Program” is the Library of Congress’ program to make available digitized versions of its American collections. These collections are freely accessible on their web site.

This online site includes millions of records from the Library of Congress itself, including its entire card catalog; The “American Memory,” located at: http://memory.loc.gov. There is also a direct link on the Library of Congress’ web site.

This web site provides free and open access via the Internet to historical text, film and sound recordings, photographs, maps, and other mediums that document the “American experience.” It is a digitally stored record of American history and ingenuity. These collections from the Library of Congress and other institutions chronicle historical events, people, places, and ideas that shaped America.

The American Memory is available for all of us.

This is a resource not only for our children’s education in school, but for us adults as we travel along our own lifelong learning quest.

Once I realized the endless amount of historical information that I could view, I found it hard to stop – I spent hours reading the text and viewing the historical film and images.

The American Memory historical collections started out as a pilot program that ran from 1990 through 1994. This program experimented with digitizing some of the Library of Congress best collections of historical documents, film and sound recordings, artwork and photographs, in what they called the “nation’s memory.”

The Library of Congress identified audiences for digital collections, established technical procedures, dealt with intellectual-property issues, explored options for distribution of these collections on CD-ROM, and began a “digitalization” effort.

Forty-four schools and libraries across the country received CD-ROMs with these materials as part of that pilot program. As the American Memory pilot ended, the Library surveyed the 44 selected schools and libraries that had participated. The response was enthusiastic, especially from teachers and students in middle and high schools who wanted more digitized resources. However, distributing these materials in CD-ROM format was both inefficient and expensive.

An opportunity presented itself in 1994, as the Internet and the World Wide Web were beginning to transform how we could store, communicate, and present knowledge.

The Library of Congress took advantage of the opportunity and, Oct. 13, 1994, announced the establishment of the National Digital Library Program. On that day, the Library of Congress launched the American Memory historical collections.

This program was an effort to digitize some of the most important historical treasures in the Library and other major research archives and make them available on the Internet to Congress, scholars, educators, students, and to all of us who were becoming a part of the online Internet community.

Beginning in 1996, the Library of Congress sponsored a three-year competition to enable public researchers, academic libraries, museums, historical societies, and archival institutions to digitize American history collections and make them available on the Library’s American Memory site.

The competition produced 23 digital collections that complement American Memory, which has today grown to more than 100 collections.

The National Digital Library exceeded its goal of making 5 million items available online in 2000.

The Library of Congress’ American Memory continues to add to its collections and will keep on expanding their online historical content.

The mission statement explains it well: “to sustain and preserve a universal collection of knowledge and creativity for future generations.”

To view some of the fascinating and rich historical images and film about our home state, go to http://memory.loc.gov and type “Minnesota” in the search engine.