This weekend I traveled to Washington D.C. for a professional conference. My trip was short, but I did get to spend most of the day Friday at the Library of Congress (LOC). I’ve been to LOC before as a visitor/tourist, so I didn’t feel compelled to take many pictures. I’d not been as a user of their collection however.
I’d not prepared for the trip, other than spending a few minutes reading the website, so, I did not have clear cut goals. Because of this, I decided to focus more on seeing what I could find of value for the NCGenWeb project rather than my own personal research.
Upon getting to the library, I went first to get my Reader Identification Card. Good for two years, the card is used to gain entry into the numerous reading rooms and request books from the closed library stacks.
The process for obtaining the card was straightfoward and easy so I was done in less than half an hour. After getting the card I then took the underground tunnel from the Madison Building over to the Jefferson Building to go to the Local History & Genealogy Room.
This is the view from my position in the research room looking towards the front. The reference desk is hidden behind the atlas. You see those TV screens? They have cameras so they can see what’s going on in all parts of the room. There is free wireless access which I loved having available!
My first order of business was to request books from the closed stacks. I knew that this would take approximately 50 minutes for them to be retrieved so I jumped online, identified some books of interest, and then made the request using the paper slips they make available in the room. There is no limit to the number of books you can request to have pulled at one time.
After filling out many of these slips, when I handed them in, I asked the staff person if there were any plans to allow requests to be submitted electronically. At that time, he gave me instructions on how to do just that! I only wished the staff person who gave me the room orientation had told me this beforehand.
The room has 7,000+ items present so I was able to extract information from some of the North Carolina holdings while I waited for my books to be delivered. I then spent the next few hours going through the books, taking digital pictures of pages of interest. I took over 300 pictures with my cell phone of information that I plan to use throughout various NCGenWeb sites for other researchers. Sweet. Maybe next time, I can look for particular sources that may help my own individual research.
Following the Local History & Genealogy Room, I then went to the Newspapers & Current Periodicals Room. My visit here was not as nearly productive. First of all, the staff person didn’t seem to quite understand my vague request for a newspaper reel from the 1880s that included various NC newspapers. I guess they are used to people seeking specific titles, but I tried to explain that from the library catalog record I knew that the reel contained multiple newspapers and I just wanted the reel. He kept insisting that I put a specific title on the request form, but the reel contained about 20 different titles. Eventually I jotted down one of the titles on the reel and sure enough when the reel was delivered the title was not on there but instead it read “Misc. NC newspapers”. Yeah.
Now, I was looking forward to using their digital machines. It is advertised on their homepage that you can bring your USB drive and download images to the microfilm reader. In addition to all the standard types of microform readers, they have 4 ST-200 machines.
While I was initially excited, my excitement quickly waned. I do not like this machine.
It seemed that there was not an easy way to view a readable image of an entire newspaper page nor capture a high-resolution image of an entire page. Without being able to see the whole page at a sufficient zoom level, it was difficult to know what was on each page. I was able to zoom in on the page, but then I’d spend a lot of time moving the plate around in order to see different parts of each page. Cumbersome is not even the word.
I then tried the digital capture and tried to download it to my external harddrive. Turns out, when they say download to your USB drive, they mean USB drive – it wasn’t compatible with my external harddrive. Oh well. Not a biggie. I used a workaround and snapped some more pictures with my phone’s camera. I guess I could have asked for help, but I was trying to figure it out on my own.
Overall though, if I’d had more time, I’d definitely have requested more rolls of film and relied on the traditional microfilm machines. I did spend the afternoon regretting that I’d not been interested in genealogy when I lived in DC! I lived there for a year in 1999-2000 and if I’d only have been interested I could have been spending a LOT of time at the Library of Congress.
And you know what else? I found out that the cemetery I lived next to when I did live in DC was the cemetery where F. Scott Fitzgerald was originally buried. I remember passing that cemetery often too!
All in all, I had a great day though and am very glad I had the opportunity to go visit LOC and see friends. For more tips on visiting LOC, check out Missy’s blog post.