GIIG hosts a double tour of federal libraries
An intrepid band of librarians gathered in the downtown of our nation’s capital, to take part in a double tour of two very special libraries. The tour was lived up to its name, “National Treasures III”, and featured a morning tour of the Interior Library, U.S. Department of Interior, and an afternoon tour of the Ralph J. Bunche Library, U.S. Department of State.
The Department of Interior was founded in 1849 as a counterpart to the British Home Office, and held many duties, such as education, copyright, and distribution of government publications, that are now part of other agencies, in these cases, the Department of Education, the Library of Congress, and the Government Printing Office. The present building on E Street was built during the Depression, and given the address of 1849 E Street, in honor of the year of its founding.
The library’s entrance is just off the main lobby,before one passes through security, and as such, it is very welcome and open to the public. The Art Deco Reading Room has many sumptuous features often found in buildings constructed in the Depression. The stairs are a deep green Cardiff Marble (from Pennsylvania, actually, but the quarry workers were from Cardiff, Wales). The floors are of black and sand colored cork, covered in polyurethane.
The room features numerous legacy treasures, such as a folk-art grandfather clock covered in small seashells, parked in the library when a long-time employee retired. The stack areas were built out of steel by a near-bankrupt shipbuilding company, and were actually made to be adjustable in height. With its close hallways, narrow stairs and exposed conduit, the stacks do resemble the bowels of a naval vessel.
The collection was formed from a dozen or so agencies of Interior. Only the Geological Survey has its own library system. As it has the agency’s law collection, it has a near complete Serial Set, and our guide, Ms. Maureen Booth, shared with us a number of rare items, including full color photos of Commodore Perry’s expedition to Japan. One of our favorites was a photograph of a Japanese gentleman who bore a distinct resemblance to comedian Bob Newhart. The balcony above the reading room held historical maps and other rare material, including maps of Washington from the mid-19th century, including farms and smuggling tunnels. The collection is very strong in energy, national parks, and management of natural resources. The library’s web site is online at http://www.doi.gov/library/index.cfm, and includes many electronic resources and a searchable catalog, whose contents can be obtained via interlibrary loan. The library also sponsors a park ranger speaker series which is open to the public.
Our company then spent lunch in the Buffalo Cafeteria in the basement of the building, and then reassembled to walk up Virginia Avenue to the U.S. Department of State. We passed through the outer security gate in fairly short order. We then spent some twenty minutes passing through inner security, which included scanning everyone’s ID and several close questions.
We were escorted to the library by Ms. Megan Sheils, Reference and Marketing Librarian for the Ralph J. Bunche Library (http://www.state.gov/m/a/ls/), one of the rarest gems among Washington’s libraries. The library was founded in 1789, and is thus the oldest federal library. Today it is named for Ralph J. Bunche (1904-1971), an American diplomat who did much to establish the United Nations, and was serving as Undersecretary-General when he passed away. He was awarded the Medal of Freedom by President Kennedy, and was instrumental in establishing United Nations Peacekeeping Forces. The legend, Ms. Sheils informed us, is that peacekeepers wear blue because the honorable Mr. Bunche got a deal on some blue fabric.
The main room is federal elegance at its finest. The furniture and shelves are dark mahogany in color. Public access computers are housed in snug study carrels; Ms. Sheils informed us that when Foreign Service personnel are sent back to Washington, there are commonly no office computers to use in the weeks before their next assignment, and so they use the library’s computers. There is, in addition, a popular book area of sorts, supplied on an honor system of ‘bring a book, take a book’. “Federal libraries serve homeless people, too,” quipped the staff.
The archives are behind a mirrored wall in the back of the main room. They contain as complete a record of Foreign Affairs of the United States as can be imagined. It also has archives of State Department cables (all declassified), and sundry treasures. The rare book room contains such items as reference books of international treaties signed by Thomas Jefferson (he evidently had a “private signature” for everyday work and a more elaborate “public signature” with many ornamental flourishes, for public documents). There were also several compilations of diplomatic dispatches from the 17th century. These and other things were survivors of the library’s destruction in 1814, when the British burned Washington DC. It is thought that these books were stuffed in flour sacks and stored in a Virginia barn, along with the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, which were in the library at the time. At the top of the stack areas, there was a vault that was yielded to another department. Most of what it contained was junk, but there was a photo catalog of European art looted by the Nazis, which Goering would pass around to his friends to have them pick out gifts. Somehow it came to the Bunche Library.
The stack area is entered down a ramp, because the floors don’t line up with the rest of the building. This gives the library no small bit of fortress-like protection. At each new administration, some department chief will eye the space hungrily, saying, “we could fit a lot of lawyers in here,” until they learn that the library stacks are structural, i.e., the shelving holds up the ceilings. This means the entire space would have to be gutted and rebuilt. So the idea is quietly dropped, until some day when someone actually has $20 million dollars to spend on a library renovation.
Almost all electronic resources are within their firewall. The library has a partnership with the Office of E-Diplomacy, similar to what academic libraries have with their institution’s IT departments. Resources include Diplopedia, the internal wiki (Wikipedia is blocked due to security reasons); Diplopedia is a great aggregator of state department publications and social media, sadly most of them internal. Corridor is the State Department’s stripped down Facebook, again because of security. The library catalog and databases are clustered by the library’s Diplopedia page, including multiple sources of country information and statistics, treaties and declassified government documents.
By far the greatest part of the staff’s daily challenge is taken up with marketing the library and its services. In addition to its electronic outreach efforts, the library sponsors a very successful speaker series, mostly authors of political nonfiction. It was started in July of 2012, and has proven far more popular than expected. Most of the titles and authors they choose come from the Politics and Prose Bookstore and Coffee Shop (http://www.politics-prose.com/) in downtown DC. Even so, they still meet 30-year veterans of the department who walk in and exclaim “I didn’t know we had a library…” Plus Ca Change…
All in all, it was a very informative and exciting tour of two libraries that are not often heard of, but provide valuable resources. In general, the State Department employees possess a much higher level of education than the general population, but many of the challenges the library faces, and the responses it provides, are similar to academic and public libraries. The Interior Library likewise is rarely heard of, but is among the most accessible of federal libraries, and provides timely and thorough resources in science policy.
Carl P. Olson
August 12, 2013
2010 Conference program: In The Shadows of Giant Elms: Fostering Stewardship of the Chesapeake Bay. Friday, April 16, 2010.
When John Smith explored the Bay in 1607, giant elms and chestnuts the size of California redwoods stood over the huge forest and clear waters. Shipbuilding, tobacco farming, industry and suburban living have all taken their toll on H.L. Mencken's "immense protein factory." The Chesapeake Bay Program is a federal, state, local and nonprofit partnership founded in 1983, and works to protect and restore the Bay. Ms. Kristina Hopkins, outreach coordinator, presented a well-received program on how libraries, particularly public ones, can support and encourage the care and awareness of the Bay. Most of the Bay's pollution, once thought to be primarily the result of agriculture, is mostly caused by ordinary residents, and residents can take action to heal the bay. Beginning with basic steps such as book displays and building awareness among library patrons, the library can also promote the use of rain barrels, stencil storm drains, install fundraising "vending machines" to collect money for the Bay, and build rain gardens to catch corrosive runoff from parking lots and roads near the library. Her account was well-organized and favorably reviewed by the sizable crowd of attendees. More information can be found at the Chesapeake Bay Program Web Site at http://www.chesapeakebay.net/.
An Update to the USA Patriot Act - Are We Ready?
The November 9, 2006, 'An Update to the USA Patriot Act - Are We Ready?' program sponsored by IFAP/GID has been canceled, due to low registration.
GID Business and Program Planning Meeting
Tuesday, August 1, 2006
The Government Information Division will be having a business and program planning meeting on Tuesday, August 1st. We will be meeting in Frederick County Public library's Business Resource Center room, at 10:30. Come join us as we work on structuring our conference program on an introduction to Geographic Information Systems (GIS), as well as pitch ideas for future programs! Everyone and their ideas are welcome to attend. Dutch lunch to follow the meeting for those that can stay.
"Gateway to Government Information"
FirstGov.gov, Your One Stop Shopping Connection!
Thursday, June 8, 2006, Community Information Room, Frederick County Libraries, 110 East Patrick Street, Frederick, MD, 21701
This program was worth 2 contact hours of continuing education.
Martin Kwapinski, Senior Content Manager of FirstGov.gov, and Marybeth Murphy, Web Content Manager of FirstGov.gov gave an overview of the features and types of information available through FirstGov.gov at http://www.firstgov.gov with an informative PowerPoint presentation, a live demonstration of the U.S. Government's Official Web Portal of FirstGov.gov, and a brief hands-on searching and testing scenario workshop for all attendees. Martin Kwapinski gave a history of how FirstGov.gov was created when Internet entrepreneur Eric Brewer offered to donate a search engine to the U.S. Government in 2000, President Bush accepted the gift and instructed that FirstGov.gov be launched within 90 days, and that FirstGov.gov first went live on September 22, 2000 to be the Official Web Portal of the U.S. Government. FirstGov.gov customers include all citizens, businesses and nonprofits, and federal, state, and local governments. This portal allows web site visitors to browse U.S. Government information by: organization; audience; topic; online service; location; and top request. One of the more popular features of FirstGov.gov is the "A-Z Index of U.S. Government Departments and Agencies", which was noted in feedback from many FirstGov.gov users. There is also a Spanish version of FirstGov.gov available at "FirstGov en Espanol" at http://www.espanol.gov. A new web page design to FirstGov.gov is expected to be released in late 2006.
Marybeth Murphy presented on FirstGov.gov site innovations such as RSS (Really Simple Syndication) that is written in XML Internet coding language and was launched on FirstGov.gov in January 2006. FirstGov.gov RSS can collect and view feeds from various sources using a RSS Reader. Another innovation of FirstGov.gov is that E-Mail updates are sent to users who request this service to let them know when their favorite pages of FirstGov.gov have been updated.
UPDATE January 18, 2007: FirstGov.gov launched a new design, URL, and name for the U.S. Government's Official Web Portal. The English version is now USA.gov at http://www.usa.gov and the Spanish version is now GobiernoUSA.gov at http://www.GobiernoUSA.gov. "Gobierno" is Spanish for "government", and "USA" is the term that most people associate with this county.
2006 MLA Conference: "The State of Agricultural Information Dissemination"
Speaker Dr. Thomas A. Fretz (former Dean, College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, University of Maryland) traced the history of the Land Grant Movement; Speaker Mary Ellen Waltemire (Western Regional Director for the Maryland Cooperative Extension) discussed the Maryland Cooperative Extension Program and how to get involved through a local extension office; Speakers Robyn Truslow (Public Relations Coordinator, Calvert County Libraries) and Susan Stonesifer (Manager, Glenwood Branch Library, Howard County Libraries) demonstrated creative partnerships with the Maryland Cooperative Extension and public libraries; Speaker Melanie Gardner (AGNIC Coordinator, National Agricultural Library) presented information on the development of AGNIC and its resources.
Pathways to Information
September 23, 2004, C&O Canal Towpath, Williamsport, MD
A National Park Service Ranger provided an interesting lecture on the historical, cultural, recreational, and educational information resources offered at visitor centers along the Canal, followed by a guided hike along the Canal’s Towpath.
Disappearing Government Information
November 9, 2004, New Carrollton Library, New Carrollton, MD; co-sponsored with the Intellectual Freedom Panel
Over 20 people attended to listen to two panelists: Rebecca Daugherty, Director of the Freedom of Information Services Center, Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, and Patrice McDermott, Associate Director of the Office of Government Relations, ALA Washington Office. The two discussed government attempts to limit public access to information, looking in particular at the Presidential Records and Federal Advisory Committee Acts, and talking about trends in classification. On a more positive note, they also mentioned the efforts of the Federal Geographic Data Committee and GPO, as well as the E-Government initiative.
2005 MLA Conference: It’s All in the Numbers: Mine the 2002 Economic Census for Valuable Nuggets about Your Community
Co-sponsored with the Library Management Division
Speaker Paul Zeisset, Special Assistant to the Chief of the Census Bureau's Economic Planning and Coordination Division, demonstrated how to access data from local communities, focusing on the newly-released 2002 Economic Census data. Mr. Zeisset also highlighted changes to the Economic Census, for example, showing how the coverage of the Economic Census has expanded over time (it now includes such areas as transportation). Jane Traynham, Manager of the Maryland State Data Center, demonstrated how to navigate the Maryland State Data Center website, from which a large quantity of Maryland-specific and local reports and data can be accessed.
2005 MLA Conference: Fact or Fiction: Putting Government Information to Work
This entertaining program featured 3 panelists who use government information in the course of their work: Ira Chinoy, former investigative reporter/writer for The Washington Post and visiting Professor, Phillip Merrill School of Journalism, University of Maryland; Sandy Levy, Director of Library Services for The Baltimore Sun; and Marcia Talley, award-winning mystery writer and a former librarian at the GAO. The presenters detailed their experiences finding and using government information and discussed challenges in gaining access to public information.
Questions or suggestions related to content should be directed to Carl P. Olson
Last updated 23 June 2007.