The Library of Congress and Culture
The Library of Congress is the U.S.’s place to store every cultural artifact for posterity. Imagine 100 years from now, when things we accept as normal today, like iPhones and Facebook, become only memories to be studied by future generations in a library. That is the Library of Congress’ job — to preserve these soon-to-be fossils. The Library currently ranks as the second largest overall collection in the world. So, what kinds of things has the Library determined are worth saving?
Not just music, but famous speeches and other important audio recordings are stored at the Library of Congress, mostly in their original analog formats. This means that researchers can check out cylinders, LPs, cassette tapes, and CDs, as well as digital sound files. Many of the original analog copies are degrading with time, so the Library endeavors to convert as many of them as possible to a digital format.
The 1.2 million items that compose the Library of Congress’ moving picture collection include motion picture films, newsreels, TV shows, educational videos, and even advertisements. Many of the older items in this collection are at risk of being lost due to the sudden degradation of cellulose nitrate film, but these items are slowly being converted to digital formats. The combined audio and visual moving image collection at the Library of Congress is the largest in the world with over 6.2 million items.
Image via Flickr by kansasphoto
In 2000, the Library of Congress began collecting and preserving websites of historical, political, and cultural significance. The Library gets permission from the website’s author, then uses a “web crawler” software to copy the site. The library’s current web archives hold about 20 categories of websites that pertain to specific historical events, as well as single sites and sites related to the visual image collection.
In 2010, the Library of Congress made a deal with Twitter to collect every Tweet ever made since 2006. As you can imagine, the volume of tweets in this collection is enormous. The Library was receiving over 500 million tweets a day in October 2012. Because of the size of the collection, the Library is in the process of developing a way to make it searchable by researchers. So far the collection is still not available for research.
Besides the over 23 million books listed in the Library’s catalog, the Library also holds newspapers, manuscripts, magazines, advertisements, and more. The Library of Congress is home to the largest collection of comic books in the world with over 100,000 issues. The oldest of which is dated 1936, two years before Superman first appeared in Action Comics #1.
Every item in the Library’s extensive collection, whether it is donated or bought by the Library, has to be approved by experts before it is allowed into the collection. Around 15,000 items arrive at the Library every day, and of these about 4,000 don’t get incorporated into the collection. It is up to the librarians and other researchers who work at the Library to decide what is most valuable and possible to preserve within the Library of Congress.