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LC Works to Make Collections Accessible and Compelling
Posted On May 15, 2008
The venerable Library of Congress (LC), said to be our nation’s oldest federal cultural institution, has certainly not been acting staid and traditional. Lately it’s been leading the way with some exciting digital preservation projects, working with leading multimedia partners on innovative projects, and reaching out to other international organizations to establish a World Digital Library (WDL). In April, Kathy Dempsey reported on the massive project just launched by LC called the Library of Congress Experience ( It offers innovative and interactive exhibits at the library that showcase the library’s treasures, plus a companion website called at Since then, there have been a flurry of additional announcements about LC’s varied activities that warrant discussion.

Founded in 1800, the library seeks to further human understanding and wisdom by providing access to knowledge through its collections. The library "seeks to spark the public’s imagination and celebrate human achievement through its programs and exhibits. In doing so, the institution helps foster the informed and involved citizenry upon which American democracy depends." The library serves the public, scholars, members of Congress and their staff through its reading rooms on Capitol Hill and its website.

LC is the largest library in the world, with more than 138 million items, including books and other print materials, recordings, photographs, maps, sheet music, and manuscripts. LC has made digitized versions of collection materials available online since 1994.

Digital Preservation
In December 2000, Congress asked LC to lead a collaborative project called the National Digital Information Infrastructure and Preservation Program (NDIIPP; The library has been working with partners from universities, libraries, archives, federal agencies, and commercial content and technology organizations to develop a national strategy to collect, archive, and preserve the growing amounts of digital content, especially materials in digital-only formats, for current and future generations.

As part of the NDIIPP effort, a new distributed storage project has just been announced, called the Chronopolis Digital Preservation Demonstration Project ( Its goal is to provide "cross-domain collection sharing for long-term preservation." Simply put, it uses existing high-speed educational and research networks and leverages existing data storage capabilities at some key partner sites "to provide a preservation data grid that emphasizes heterogeneous and highly redundant data storage systems." Partners in the project are the San Diego Supercomputer Center (SDSC) at UC San Diego, the UC San Diego Libraries (UCSDL), and their partners at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) in Colorado and the University of Maryland’s Institute for Advanced Computer Studies (UMIACS).

The NDIIPP program recently launched a monthly newsletter in case you’re interested in keeping up. Subscribe at

Historical Content Gets a Viewing
The Library of Congress and History (part of A&E Television Networks) have joined forces to create a multimedia partnership to showcase the library’s collections to the audience of the History brands including, The History Channel, and other television properties. The partnership will also bring historical content to more than 200,000 teachers across the country that use the channel’s branded educational materials in their classrooms.

In making the announcement, the partners said it would involve cobranded content on the website, as well as original specials and short- and long-form historical documentary programming on The History Channel. This is a wonderful way for LC to reach out to broader audiences—and do so on multiple platforms. History has already produced some new content for the Library of Congress Experience.

Progress Toward a World Digital Library
In cooperation with the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and major libraries and cultural institutions around the world, LC has been leading an effort to establish a World Digital Library that will make available on the internet, free of charge and in multilingual format, significant primary materials from cultures around the world. Information about the WDL can be found at (We first covered the WDL in a NewsBreak back in November 2005, when Google made a $3 million contribution:

LC recently announced a partnership with the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST;, an international, graduate-level research university that will be opening in Saudi Arabia in September 2009. The partnership will enable LC to work with KAUST and its WDL partners to develop the history of science in the Arab and Islamic worlds as a major theme in the WDL, which will be launched at UNESCO in early 2009.

Embracing Change
LC has been reaching to embrace many new technologies to fulfill its missions—including podcasting, webcasting, multimedia presentations, and more. Earlier this year it posted several important historical photograph collections through Flickr, inviting the public to tag and comment on the photos and help in providing identifying information. You can access a webcast about this Web 2.0 pilot project at

Whoever said an old institution can’t learn new tricks?

Paula J. Hane is a freelance writer and editor covering the library and information industries. She was formerly Information Today, Inc.’s news bureau chief and editor of NewsBreaks.

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