THE legislative history of the Library of Congress, although not a brief, is a meagre one. It was established in the year that witnessed the removal of the capital to Washington ; but from 1802, when the appointment of the librarian was vested in the President of the United States, to 1897, when the act was passed for the organization of the work in the new building, its constitution has remained practically unchanged.
In August of 1814 the entire existing collection was destroyed by the British troops. The first fourteen years, therefore, left no survival, and the birth of the present Library as a collection must date from 1815, when the purchase of the library of ex-President Jefferson started it anew with 6700 volumes. Its history since is divided into a few main periods by events which have had an important influence.
In 1851 a second fire — not, however, caused by the public enemy — destroyed all but 20,000 volumes of the then existing collection. Seventy-five thousand dollars were appropriated for its replenishment, and from that time on the growth has been uninterrupted. From 1846 to 1859 the Library received a copy of all copyrighted publications. Discontinued in 1859, this privilege was revived in 1865, and five years later was enlarged by the law which transferred to the Library the entire copyright business, and incidentally required both copies of the articles copyrighted to be deposited therein.
In 1866 came the agreement, authorized by Congress, which transferred to it the library of the Smithsonian Institution, with the stipulation that future acquisitions should follow. The transfer was not a gift. The books may be withdrawn on reimbursement of expense of binding and care ; but until withdrawn they remain in effect an integral part of the Library.
The only other events affecting the growth of the collection which have depended upon legislation are two important purchases by special grant : that of the Peter Force collection in 1867, and that of the de Rochambeau in 1883. Each of these brought to the Library material of inestimable value in which it was weak: the Force, Americana, including original manuscripts, and also some incunabula; the de Rochambeau, manuscripts important to the study of the war of the Revolution.
The gift, in 1882, of the Toner collection brought also some Americana ; its most individual contribution consisting of the transcripts of writings of Washington which Dr. Toner had had prepared during a long series of years.
A list of the influences at work in the development of the Library and in the determination of its scope and character would not be complete, however, without mention of an influence most potent upon both, — the appointment in 1864 of Ainsworth R. Spofford as librarian. Down to 1815 the librarian had been but the clerk of the House of Representatives for the time being. From 1815 until 1864 there had been only three appointees to the office, the last of whom served but for the three years ending 1864. With the appointment of Dr. Spofford, however, who had already served as an assistant during the incumbency of his predecessor in the librarianship, came the conception of a larger scope for the Library. The means within his control were indeed small, — for general purchases only $5000 a year, — but they were applied chiefly at auction sales, with consistent purpose and persistent thrift ; while the range of purchase indicated a purpose for the Library far beyond mere legislative use, —a purpose, indeed, not merely implied, but under Dr. Spofford freely expressed, that the Library (so called “ of Congress ”) was eventually to become a library truly national.
But had this destiny been recognized by Congress in more ample appropriations, it still could not be fulfilled under the existing conditions. When Dr. Spofford took office in 1864, the Library contained but 99,000 volumes. Within a decade these had grown to 293,000, and the space for further increase was wanting. Then began the agitation for more ample provision, for adaptation of other rooms in the Capitol building, for a new wing, — finally for a new building. Year after year went on in appeal, reference, discussion, report. Meanwhile, the books accumulated in heaps upon the floor, in vaults, in closets, and in attics, — the medley familiar to all who visited the Library between 1875 and 1897. In this embarrassment, that larger appropriations should be granted for purchase was not to be expected ; that a normal accumulation was continued was due to the indefatigable optimism of Dr. Spofford, as that practical use was made of a collection in such dire confusion, without space either for books or for administration, and without adequate administrative force, was due to that marvelous locative memory which in him has perhaps excelled that of any librarian of any generation.
The last twenty years of the Library in the Capitol were, however, years of administrative anguish. The attention of Congress was directed to the erection of a new building. From 1883 to 1896 there was no legislation whatever providing for special purchases, nor any looking to immediate improvement of administration or enlargement of service.
With the history and character of the new Library building the public is fully familiar. Provided for by ample appropriations, planned deliberately, erected under able supervision, it stands to-day the largest, most imposing, most sumptuous, and most costly library building in the world. It covers three and a half acres of ground, contains eight and a half acres of floor space, and provides accommodations in its stacks alone for 2,000,000 volumes. It is nearly three times the size and represents nearly three times the expenditure of any other existing library building in America. The appropriation for it was large, but it was built within the appropriation. It was honestly built, and it is a workable building. It carries, therefore, no remorse to either legislator or citizen for the $7,000,000 expended upon it.
Its completion in 1897 meant not merely better accommodation for the existing collection of books : it has raised the questions : What is the Library of Congress ? What is it to be ? If a national library, how far has it advanced toward such a title ? What have been its opportunities ?
Let us turn aside for a moment to review the history of a library admittedly national.
The British Museum was established a half century before the Library of Congress, and had as a foundation three considerable collections already formed : that of Sir Robert Cotton, given to the nation by William III. fifty-three years before ; the Harleian, also in the custody of the nation ; and the collection of Sir Hans Sloane, purchased in 1753 at a cost of £20,000. Within four years there was added the old Royal Library, founded by Henry VII., the gift of George II. In 1759 the Museum was opened with 80,000 volumes of printed books and pamphlets, among them material — chronicles, chartularies, original rolls and charts and other manuscripts — of inestimable importance to the student of English history. For the one hundred and forty years succeeding, it has, from time to time, received other great special collections which kings and noblemen and wealthy private collectors have freely turned over to it as gifts to the nation : the Royal Library of George III., the gift (in 1823) of George IV.,—70,000 volumes, whose cost had been £130,000 ; the Grenville collection, — 20,000 volumes, upon which the donor had expended nearly £60,000; and innumerable smaller or less costly accumulations, — the Edwards, Birch, Onslow, Banks, Cracherode, Egerton, Arundel. The total value of gifts to the Museum in all departments, during the twelve years from 1823 to 1835 alone, was estimated at £400,000. To expend great sums on books, manuscripts, gems, marbles, ceramics ; to be known as a collector defying competition in the chosen field ; and at the acme of reputation to turn over the exquisite whole to the use of the nation, appears to have become a proudest fad of the British connoisseur.
The Museum began immediately, and for one hundred and forty-six years has continued uninterruptedly, to receive the benefit of accessions from the copyright law of Great Britain. Its regular appropriations for the purchase of books, already £1000 a year in the beginning of the century, when values were trivial, became in 1845 £10,000 a year, and for the past forty-four years have averaged at least that sum yearly. In addition, it has had numerous special grants for the purchase of notable collections thrown suddenly upon the market: the grant, for instance, of £45,000 for the purchase, in 1878, of the Stowe manuscripts.
With reference to such opportunities, the same spirit has operated in its favor which achieved the purchase for the National Gallery of the Ansidei Madonna, at a cost to the nation of £72,000. From its foundation it was conceived as a library truly national. The ward (in a sense) of Parliament, it was not administered as a mere auxiliary to Parliament. Its administration was vested in a Board of Trustees, in part ex officio, in part appointed by the Crown, — a board, in size (it comprises forty-eight members) and in character, suited rather for advisory than administrative functions, but whose constitution indicates at least a desire to place at the service of the institution the most distinguished judgment in the nation.
The concern of Parliament in the affairs of the Museum has been evidenced further by the creation at different times of special commissions, with authority to examine into its constitution, management, and needs, and to report.
The reports of three of these commissions (those of 1835-36 and 1847) comprise, with the evidence (largely of citizens assumed to have special knowledge), 2052 folio pages, and include tabulated returns as to the constitution, organization, regulations, and expenditure of each of twenty-seven leading libraries of Europe. The interest of Parliament has been keen even as to the very technical affair of the catalogue of the Library. A printed catalogue in book form, opposed by Panizzi as long ago as 1837, when the Library contained but 275,000 volumes, has now been achieved, with the Library increased to 2,000,000 volumes. That its cost of publication alone has exceeded £40,000 is, in the minds of intelligent Englishmen, of so little moment, compared with its value to learning, that there is proposed 1 the immediate preparation of a revised edition, to include accessions to 1900, on an estimate that such a revision may be accomplished by 1915, and will cost but £60,000!
Reverting to the Library of Congress, we find contrasts at various points, as might have been expected. Begun nominally with the century, its practical beginning was not until 1815 ; and the slow accumulations of the succeeding thirty-five years were in large part destroyed by the fire of 1851, which reduced the Library to a collection of but 20,000 volumes.
The regular appropriations for the purchase of books have aggregated, since that date, less than $250,000, only one half the sum expended by the British Museum during the ten years from 1845 to 1855 alone, when values in certain lines were perhaps no more than a third as great. In the entire one hundred years of its existence it has had but eight special grants for special purchases. The total amount of these has been less than $165,000. One of them was for law books. Only three have exceeded $10,000 in amount : the grant in 1815 of $23,950, for the purchase of the library of Thomas Jefferson (of which but 2000 volumes survived the fire of 1851) ; that of $100,000 in 1867, for the purchase of the Force collection ; and that of $20,000 in 1883, for the purchase of the military papers, maps, and letter books of the Count de Rochambeau.
Excepting the Smithsonian collection, — which, though an accession, was not a gift, but a deposit, — and the Gardiner Greene Hubbard collection of engravings, not yet transferred, the Library of Congress has received, in the course of its entire history, but one eminent gift, — that, in 1882, of the Toner collection. In its entire history it has not received a single gift of money.
Begun as a legislative library, “ for the use of both Houses of Congress and the members thereof,” it has only gradually struggled into the notion of a larger career. For years it had the custody and distribution of legislative documents. It was, therefore, not merely a library, but a document room. Its constitution is peculiar. It ranks in law not as an executive department, but as a branch of the legislative. On the other hand, its librarian has, since 1802, been appointed by the head of the executive division of the government, the President of the United States. The reports which he submits are addressed, however, not to the President, but direct to Congress. The general supervision of the Library is in a “ joint committee on the Library of Congress,” composed of three Senators and three Representatives.
Down to 1896, the general organization of the Library, its proper scope, its functions, had not been the subject of detailed discussion or deliberate investigation on the part of Congress at large, nor of any commission created by Congress.
In May, 1896, on the eve of the completion of the new building, the joint committee on the Library was instructed to inquire into the condition of the Library and report, with recommendations ; also to report a plan for the organization, custody, and management of the new Library building and of the Library itself.
In November and December following the committee held several sessions pursuant to this resolution. Testimony was taken, the witnesses including five outside librarians. The testimony of particular value elicited was that from Dr. Spofford himself, and this was chiefly historical.
Before the committee had opportunity to formulate a report, or even to print its proceedings, the appropriation bill for 1897 was reported to the House. It contained a provision for the Library of Congress, which incidentally carried with it a scheme for the organization of the Library in the new building. The scheme was partially modified in discussion, but was substantially adopted, and in effect represents the organization to-day.
The brief administration of John Russell Young, from July, 1897, to January 17, 1899, was occupied with the installation of the collections in the new building, and with the reorganization of the staff as enlarged by the new appropriation act. The appropriation for the increase of the general collection was enlarged to $15,000 in 1898, and $25,000 for the ensuing year. The slight advance which this represents was not, of course, sufficient to affect materially the general structure of the collection, which remains, therefore, practically what it was when the building was opened.
What, then, is the Library of Congress to-day ? We may consider it most simply by applying to it the tests applicable to any library, of whatever type. What are its collections, and what is the provision for their increase? What is its organization for the business of getting and caring for the books, what for making them available to the public ? What is, what may be, its “ public ” ?
The collection itself. In mere mass this exceeds that of any other library on the western hemisphere, and, through historical causes special to it, comprises elements not found in any other single library. It consists nominally of 850,000 printed books and 250,000 pamphlets, 26,000 pieces of manuscript, 50,000 maps, 277,000 pieces of music, and over 70,000 prints, —including under the latter term photographs, lithographs, engravings, and etchings.
The above figures, however, include the Law Library (103,000 volumes), still at the Capitol, and the Smithsonian Deposit (say 90,000 volumes). They include duplicates (estimated in 1897 at one third of the entire collection) ; and in the case of printed books and pamphlets they include not merely copyright deposits which have been transferred to the general collection, but those others which still as “ record copies ” remain in the copyright department, and do not form a part of the library proper. These latter are estimated at some 140,000 volumes and pamphlets.
The major part of the general material now in the Library is the result of the operation of the copyright law. The effect of this law should have been nominally to secure to the Library one copy of every article entered for copyright between 1846 and 1859, and 1865 and 1870, inclusive, and two copies (though still only one of designs for works of the fine arts) of every such article entered from 1870 to date. The law of 1870 provided also for the transfer to the Library of Congress of certain deposits under former entries, and then in the possession of the Patent Office, with the resultant addition of some 7000 volumes. Superficially, these provisions, in the aggregate, should seem to have secured to the Library the issues of the American press during the past thirty-five years, and, in part, of previous periods, — and those issues not merely in the form of books and pamphlets, but also of maps, music, photographs, lithographs, etc.; in so far, first, as such material has been copyrighted, and, second, in so far as it has been deposited according to law. It is to be remembered, however, that many important publications fail to be entered for copyright,—some from negligence, some from indifference, but also many, of great importance, because their cost of production defies piracy, as their limited constituency of subscribers renders it profitless. Then, too, while the law makes the deposit on or before the date of publication a requisite to a perfect title, it does not make it prerequisite to the acceptance of the application for entry. Many an applicant makes his entry, and, receiving his certificate of entry, does not concern himself that he has failed to perfect it by the requisite deposit. The question as to whether he has perfected his title is raised only in event of alleged infringement. As long ago as 1867 a penalty of twenty-five dollars was established for his default ; but it can be enforced only by proceedings in a federal court, — a labor which the overburdened administration of the Library has not yet in a single instance found it possible to undertake.
The character of what has come into the Library through copyright may easily be guessed: miscellaneous material, a very large amount of it of great value, and a considerable amount of small literary value, but all pertinent to a national library of the United States. The entire collection of music, the entire collection of prints (with the exception of some 1300 collected by George P. Marsh, and which came through the Smithsonian), are the fruit of the copyright law.
The second great contribution to the collection was from the Smithsonian. The Library originally transferred consisted of about 40,000 volumes. To this, during every year since 1866, there have been added other books, pamphlets, and parts of serial publications, the bulk of the material received by the Smithsonian through its exchanges; not the whole, for part has been retained at the Smithsonian building for the more immediate use of its officers. The Smithsonian volumes now on the shelves of the Library, so far as identified, exceed 80,000 in number. They consist in the main of transactions and proceedings of learned societies and of other serial publications, and in a less degree of monographs. The difficult conditions during the last twenty years of the Library in the Capitol rendered systematic receipt or methodic arrangement or adequate care of this material impossible. Many of the sets are incomplete. In the aggregate, however, the Deposit represents the most important collection of scientific serials in this country. The Smithsonian correspondents now number over 30,000. They include the scientific societies of the world, and a very large number outside of the domain of the sciences proper. The publications received from them, therefore, form, and will form, a collection of signal importance.
They comprise, practically, all that the Library possesses of scientific literature, the expenditure having been chiefly along other lines. Applied science is represented very meagrely ; the technical arts are hardly represented at all.
In addition, however, to the fruits of its own exchanges, the Smithsonian has been the agent of the Library in effecting the international exchanges, of which the Library was made the direct beneficiary by the law of 1857, which placed at its disposal for exchange abroad fifty copies of every publication issued by the United States government, the whole machinery of the exchange being operated by the Smithsonian, and the expense of transmittal borne out of funds at its disposal. The product of the international exchange is, of course, not general literature, but documents.
Deducting from the gross total of printed books (850,000 volumes) the Law Library, the copyright record copies, and the Smithsonian Deposit, we have a miscellaneous collection (including documents and a large proportion of duplicates) of about 500,000 volumes, to which are to be added, say, 250,000 pamphlets. In these proportions, the collection is not numerically greatly in excess of certain other collections in the United States, — the Boston Public Library, for instance, the Harvard College Library, or the New York Public Library.
In estimating the efficiency of the Library, its particular functions are to be considered.
The Library of Congress is first of all a legislative library. Its primary duty is to Congress ; its other duties are only opportunities that, with the assent of Congress, may be put to use without neglect of this. The material that it should amass, therefore, should be primarily such as would serve a legislator in the highest legislative body in the United States ; primarily all that which records the origins and development of the United States and of each of its component parts (and no student will be content to regard those origins as dating only from 1492) ; the record of all legislation, in every country ; and, so far as is practicable, the record of the discussion which has preceded legislation enacted or legislation defeated, and of the conditions from which legislation arose or to which it was to be applied : all history, therefore; constitutions, statute law, administration, statistics (commercial, industrial, and social, as well as political) ; the literature of comparative institutions ; political science and political economy ; sociology in its largest sense ; finance, transportation, public improvements, education, international law, diplomacy.
Legislation and statistics are largely embodied in that class of material designated “ public documents.” The opportunities of the Library of Congress for the acquisition of public documents, in so far as they may be obtained by solicitation, should seem unsurpassed. Of federal documents, it is by law entitled to at least two copies for itself, and fifty copies for exchange; for foreign documents, it may reinforce its direct application by the good offices of the Department of State, and of the accredited representatives of the United States government abroad.
With these resources at its command, the Library of Congress should have a collection of public documents unexcelled. In fact, however, the collection is understood to be by no means the most complete even in the United States. Under historical conditions very adverse, no one of the above resources could be utilized to the full.
In state and municipal documents the Library is still more defective. Here there is not even in form an obligation to transmit, and the impracticability heretofore of systematic solicitation has prevented acquisitions which might have been secured if promptly applied for.
Forty-eight governments and institutions are on its list of international exchanges ; but of these, the government of Great Britain and that of Germany, although beneficiaries under the exchange, do not themselves respond, and the government of France responds but irregularly.
The Law Library is a collection numerically one of the largest in the United States ; in efficiency, it is supposed to be excelled by that of the Bar Association of New York city, by the Social Law Library of Boston, and by various other law libraries in the United States. Jurisprudence in the larger sense, especially comparative jurisprudence, cannot be said to be broadly represented. That jurisprudence and the comparative history of institutions would both be important in a library which is not merely the library for the most eminent judicial tribunal in the world, but which is located at the seat of a government that of all governments is engaged in undertakings which are formative, needs no demonstration, even if there were not superadded the interest which these subjects possess to students pursuing them for historical purposes merely.
Similar considerations would apply to the literature of the other branches mentioned above.
Americana. Upon a distinct consideration rests the obligation of the Library toward the material which is not so directly contributory to practical affairs, but would be appropriate to its service as a national library. No publication with reference to the United States or its possessions or to the progress of American institutions, or emanating from the press of the United States, would be inappropriate. The national library of a country is the one library in which, as to the products of the press of that country, the tests of literary quality or educational value do not apply. It will be looked to to mirror the life of the time as expressed in print. To do this it must preserve impartially ; and for its purpose a publication fugitive as literature may be permanent as history.
As the foremost public library of the foremost nation of the western hemisphere, the Library of Congress should contain as well every procurable publication essential to a knowledge of the other nations of this continent and of South America. It is not possible to predict the limit of our interest in those nations, or, perhaps, of our responsibility for them. To this territory in literature the Monroe Doctrine should apply: not to the exclusion of foreign libraries, but to their exclusion in competition with the United States.
It need hardly be added that as to America, and the United States in particular, the Library of Congress should not be merely a collection of authorities at second-hand. Of all libraries, it should within this area contain the original sources.
Now the 26,000 manuscripts which the Library of Congress possesses do indeed relate almost exclusively to America, and among them is material of exceeding value : the Records of the Virginia Company from 1619 to 1624, — a copy, but the only complete extant copy ; documents relating to early Delaware and New Hampshire ; early laws of Virginia; the Vernon-Wager, Chalmers, Johnson, Dickinson, Trumbull, Washington, Paul Jones, de Rochambeau, du Simitière, and Vergennes papers; the letters and orderly books of Greene, Blaine, Sullivan, and other military heroes ; military journals of British officers, and other autograph material of the Revolutionary period ; minutes of certain committees of safety; and the entire material, in 365 folio volumes, used by Force as the basis of his Archives, — but this consists of transcripts, not originals. There are also the letter books of Monroe while minister at St. James. Through the Smithsonian the Library is in possession of thirty-five volumes which contain the proceedings of the commissioners sitting at St. John, Halifax, and Montreal for inquiring into the services, losses, and claims of American royalists, who were later indemnified by act of Parliament ; and through the Smithsonian, also, fiftyfour volumes of bills, accounts, and inventories covering the years 1650 to 1754,— a collection made by HalliwellPhillipps, and given by him to the Smithsonian in 1852. It has also in its possession an unpublished manuscript of Las Casas.
The above recital exhibits material of great significance, but it includes practically the entire manuscript collection in the Library. It will be noticed that the area covered is limited, and that it is covered but thinly. Only two items go beyond America. The material which relates to the colonies relates to but few of them, and the major portion of it touches the Revolutionary period.
Of manuscript material later than the eighteenth century the Library possesses only one important item, the correspondence of Schoolcraft, 1815-60. Of original manuscript sources of the history of foreign countries it has, in effect, nothing. What it possesses was incidental to the purchase of the Force and de Rochambeau collections, and the gift of the Toner collection. The sum total may comprise 900 volumes. We may compare with this the 110,000 volumes of manuscripts in the British Museum. Last year, the Museum spent £5000 for manuscripts; the Library of Congress, $300.
Nevertheless, it is in Americana that the Library possesses its most distinctive strength. Among its 18,000 volumes of newspapers are 350 volumes published prior to 1800, and complete or nearly complete files of nineteenth-century dailies dating back of the civil war. They comprise also at least partial files of two of the leading papers representing opposite political parties in every state and territory for the past quarter of a century.
The map department contains a larger number of maps relating to America than any other single collection in the world. With the Force collection came upward of 1000 military maps and plans covering the French war and the Revolution, of which 300 are in manuscript. But of early cartography there are few specimens, and but a scant representation of any areas beyond the United States.
The accessions from copyright have of course brought in a vast amount of American publications not accumulated by the ordinary public library. The purchases during the past forty years have represented an incessant attempt to gather in every printed book or pamphlet procurable with the small funds at the disposal of the Library, bearing upon American local history and biography and genealogy, and also, as ancestor to this, every printed book or pamphlet procurable relating to English town history and genealogy. One of the few special appropriations for purchase was in 1873, a grant of $5000 for English county histories, to which $2000 were added the year after.
But the statement now reaches the limit of the area in which the Library may be considered distinctively strong. In other divisions of history, and in all other departments of knowledge, it is necessarily weak. In every department monumenta are lacking, even in bibliography itself. The best bibliographic aids are necessary to its own future development, and they are of primary importance to the service that it is to render. The Library of Congress cannot obtain every book in existence ; it can secure and furnish the best information procurable as to what the book is and where it may be found.
In technology and the useful arts, it has, as might be expected, little beyond what has come in through copyright. The same may be said of the literature of natural science and of mathematics beyond what is represented by the Smithsonian serials. Specialization in medicine would be extravagant, with the admirably catalogued and liberally administered library of the Surgeon General’s office within easy reach.
In science, it is not clear that the duty of the Library is fulfilled with the proper care of the Smithsonian serials and the completion of the broken files. The federal government is annually expending large sums of money at Washington, in the formation and maintenance of scientific collections and in the support of scientific research. The books which are the essential tools for the men engaged in this work can be secured only in part out of the department appropriations. Space for them and administrative facilities are difficult to provide in the department buildings. Moreover, the files of scientific serials in the Library, not possibly to be duplicated elsewhere, have their effective use only with the monographs at hand, which are the great reference books in each department of science.
The Library of Congress, therefore, appears committed to some expenditure in the domain of scientific literature; to some in the natural sciences, in archæology, in ethnology, and, to a certain extent, in the sciences which are called “ applied.”
To the philosophic sciences (in the narrower sense, including theology) the obligation would not appear so direct, nor to the literature merely “ polite.” What the Library should undertake in the domain of philology and belles-lettres will perhaps depend upon a decision as to its function which this article may not anticipate. No reluctance to broaden its use has, however, to my knowledge, been expressed as a desire to limit its scope.
Congress has deliberately placed the Library first among the federal institutions at Washington of which students are invited to avail themselves.2 If, in connection with advanced research, the Library is to do as a library what the various scientific departments of the government are to do in their various branches of science, it must broaden its field. It must include the material which illustrates the origins and general progress of arts and letters. Now, in incunabula, the Library possesses, through the Force collection, 161 books printed in the fifteenth century, and 250 printed from 1500 to 1600 ; but apart from these it has almost no specimens of early printing. It also possesses eleven Flemish manuscripts on vellum, ranging from 1450 to 1700, the recent gift of Professor Wilson; but of literary memorials prior to the invention of printing it has practically nothing. It has only recently secured a few works on the subject of paleography.
In belles-lettres, outside of the works of American authors, it has but a fair representation of the most notable English authors, and of these by no means, in every case, the best editions ; but of modern Continental literature it has little or nothing.
Toward a collection of Orientalia the Library has thus far the 237 books and 2547 pamphlets in the Chinese language which came from the library of Caleb Cushing, and a few works in Turkish, the gift of Abram S. Hewitt. Of other Oriental literatures, or of Slavonic, it has but a volume here and there.
In the literature of music, as in the literature of the fine arts and architecture, it has never had funds with which to develop strength.
Such, in brief, are the contents and proportions of the present collection in the Library of Congress. The special resources of the Library for their increase consist of the future accessions from copyright and from the Smithsonian and international exchanges. It is obvious, however, that even these resources cannot be fully utilized without a special service which the Library itself does not now possess, and an expenditure for investigation and solicitation for which no provision is now made.
The accumulation of a great collection of books requires not merely the maintenance of regular agencies in the chief book marts of the world, but the dispatch, from time to time, of special emissaries to investigate possible opportunities for acquisition by purchase, and to utilize persistently every influence for acquisition by gift. Only once in its history has the Library of Congress sent a representative abroad in its behalf. In that instance it shared with the Smithsonian the expenses of an agent sent to collect European documents and to stimulate international exchanges. The direct result of his trip was the acquisition of over 4000 volumes. But there have been no funds available for other such undertakings.
For direct purchase, the appropriation, increased in 1898 to $15,000, was for last year $25,000, in addition to $2500 for the Law Library. Were this applied solely to current publications it could not cover the entire area, and to the existing deficiencies it can apply but feebly. Yet it is important that these deficiencies be supplied at the earliest possible date, not merely in the interest of the scholars of this generation, but as an economy, prior to the reclassification and cataloguing of the Library. It is to be remembered that a large proportion of the material that is needed has now a market value that is artificial, and that little of it is in demand by the Library of Congress alone. In attempting to secure it the Library of Congress must come into competition with other great libraries, fast increasing in number and resources, many of them already in receipt of a regular income for books in excess of the above amount, in possession of reserve funds for emergencies, and able as well to count upon special gifts from individuals in furtherance of special purchases. The Library of Congress has no individual benefactors to whom it may apply, when opportunity is offered for the purchase of some special collection en bloc, or for the acquisition of unusual items at an auction sale. The public sales of great special collections occur irregularly, and are seldom announced long enough in advance for the operation of an ordinary appropriation bill. Nor are purchases at private sale negotiated to advantage when the buyer’s limit of price is heralded in advance by a specific figure in an appropriation bill. For effective competition in purchase, the Library of Congress needs, therefore, in addition to its regular appropriation for books, an “emergency fund ” which may be drawn upon as occasion may require, and subsequently made good again by appropriation. A fund of $100,000 would be none too great for such a purpose.
The bulk of the Library is now arranged neatly upon the shelves, but it is arranged according to the system of classification in use in the old Library. That system was the one adopted by Thomas Jefferson for his collection of 6700 volumes. It is the Baconian system, so called ; but such authority as it might gain from Bacon’s authorship is weakened by the fact that he devised it as a classification of knowledge, and not as a classification of books. Its original three main divisions (history, philosophy, and fine arts) have been expanded into forty-four groups designated “ chapters.” The system is not (as all more modern systems attempt to be) “ expansive ; ” that is, it does not admit of further indefinite subdivisions. The inability of forty-four groups to meet the requirements of a modern library of nearly a million volumes may be guessed from the fact that a single system now popular in libraries of but a tenth of the size provides a thousand principal classes, with possibility of continued subdivision.
In 1898 a reclassification was begun upon a system that should be elastic. It has thus far been applied to but one of the forty-four chapters. The defect of force in the catalogue department has now brought the work to a standstill. Accessions are still being classified under the old system, which means with each a work later to be undone. Incidental to the new classification would be a system of notation which assigns to each volume a definite number. At present the books have no individual numbers, but must in every case be called for and recorded by author and title.
The minimum catalogue for a library of this type is a card catalogue on the “ dictionary system,” which in a single alphabet will answer the questions (1) what books the Library contains by a given author, and (2) what books the Library contains upon a given subject. At least three copies of this catalogue will be necessary : one for official use in the catalogue room, one for the reading room, and one for the Congressional Reference Library at the Capitol.3
The general catalogue of the Library now consists of a single alphabet list under authors. This is on large slips, kept loosely in drawers behind the delivery counter. It is for official use only. It is not accessible to the public, and is not in form or condition such that it may be made so. It is for the most part manuscript, and in various handwritings ; the result of gradual compilation in the old building, where the catalogue force was meagre, the bibliographic tools were scanty, and reference and comparison difficult from the confusion in which the material lay. It covers only the books and 50,000 of the 250,000 pamphlets. It has not been verified since the collection was removed to the new building. The only subject catalogue of the Library is that issued in book form in 1869, and partial subject entries of the accessions of the past year and a half. Of other catalogues in book form, there are the lists of annual accessions from 1867 to 1875, and the author catalogue of 1878-80. The weekly bulletin of the copyright office gives a list of the publications entered for copyright. As this represents in the course of the year fifty-two distinct alphabets, it is not available for convenient service as a catalogue.
There is no subject catalogue of the general collection as it exists to-day ; and of that collection there is no catalogue of any description accessible to the public. Beginning with July, 1898, all accessions to the Library have been catalogued (under authors, and in part under subjects) on cards of the standard size and form. In the case of the titles representing copyright accessions these entries have been printed, and fifty copies of each struck off. They will thus suffice not merely for the catalogues within the Library, but in part for exchange.
The catalogues of a library are part of the mechanism of use. But behind the catalogues there are, in every wellordered library, two official records of a more rigorous nature: the first is the “accession book,” —a chronological record of the books as they come into the Library, itemized volume by volume, with their source, cost, etc., — a business register ; the second is the “shelf list,” — a record of the collections precisely as arranged on the shelves. This latter record is by class and number. It is the record which enables new accessions to be located, and any book already located to be traced by its shelf or call number, — an indispensable convenience where books issued to readers are charged by their call numbers. It is also the “ stock book ” of the Library, and forms the check list when the periodic inventory is taken.
In the Library of Congress both accession register and shelf list of the current accessions are in progress. Of the existing collection there is neither an accession register nor a shelf list ; and the only check list of any description for the purpose of an inventory is that represented by the author catalogue, which, as stated above, is on loose slips, constantly withdrawn for reference, and which has not been verified since the collection has been spread out upon the shelves where verification could be had.
Taking as a unit the average output of a single classifier and of a single cataloguer, and making due provision for supervisors, revisers, shelf - listers, copyists, label-pasters, and the other subordinate and auxiliary service, and estimating the present collection as, say, 800,000 books and pamphlets, to reclassify, shelf-list, and catalogue it on the dictionary system in one year might require a force of 448 persons, at a cost of over $350,000. The present force of classifiers and cataloguers provided by law consists of seventeen persons.
In addition to the work on the existing collection, there are to be handled between 30,000 and 40,000 new books and pamphlets pouring in each year in the form of accessions.
The above work is distinct from that which has to be done upon the material in the special departments of the Library,— manuscript, map, music, periodical, print. In each of these there is a similar arrearage to be brought up before the material can become effective.
The copyright office also has its arrears, which consist of over 200,000 articles to be arranged in sequence and shelved, and others to a number not computable to be credited and indexed. The office is eight months behind in its fiftycent entries, and much delayed in its other current business. But the problem of the copyright office is a special problem, and need not be dealt with in this article, which is intended to treat of the Library as a library.
The force in the old Library consisted of but eighteen persons besides the twenty-four engaged in copyright work. It consists now, by law (exclusive of the engineer and janitor service), of 105 persons, excluding the copyright. Of these, fifty-six are by law assigned to the direct service of the reading room, day and evening.
The organization provided by law consists of the departments already mentioned, — that is, the reading-room service, catalogue, manuscript, map, music, print, and periodical ; also of the several officials engaged in general administrative work, and of one or two in subordinate capacities. The Law Library, subject to the general administration, has its force at the Capitol. The engineer and janitor force is under the superintendent of the building.
To one familiar with library economy, two departments usual in any large library will at once appear lacking in the above organization. One is the order department, which attends to the business of procuring, receiving, and acknowledging books, conducts all the correspondence with dealers and agents, checks up the invoices, registers the accessions in the accession book, assigns the accession numbers, and inserts the bookplates. The other is the shelf department, which attends to the classification, assigns the shelf and call numbers, compiles the shelf lists, arranges for binding, and is responsible for the general care and order of the shelves. In the Boston Public Library, with the existing collection well in hand, these two departments comprise a force of eighteen persons. In the Library of Congress they are not provided for at all by law.
There is in the Library of Congress no distinct department of documents, — a serious defect when the relation of this class of material to the service of the Library is considered. If it was worth while for the Boston Library to establish such a department, with one of the most experienced of American statisticians at its head, it is still more obviously to the advantage of the Library of Congress, with its certain duty toward legislation, and probable duty toward research.
The probable inexpediency of a complete catalogue of the Library in book form does not preclude the publication, from time to time, of catalogues of particular departments, and of lists of select titles covering particular subjects of timely interest. For the preparation of these, for the coördination of the bibliographic work undertaken by the various government departments at Washington, and for the bibliographic undertakings of larger scope to which the Library of Congress may justly be expected to contribute, a well - equipped department of bibliography is an immediate necessity.
It will be noticed that there is no provision for a printing department in the Library building, nor for a library bindery, — two departments of excellent efficiency and economy at some other libraries, and provided for as matters of course in the plans for the New York Public Library; nor, if one were instituting a comparison with the British Museum, could one fail to note the absence of a department of Oriental literature.
The privileges of the Library as a library of reference are open to all persons, without condition or the requirement of credentials. The withdrawal of books for home use within the District is now possible only to members of Congress and their families, and a few other specified public officials.
There is no circulation of books beyond the limits of the District, either to individuals or to institutions. To the public at large, therefore, the service of the Library is such as it may render when consulted on the premises, and the answer by letter to such inquiries as may be addressed to it from a distance.
The number of volumes consulted within the Library building averages about 500 per day. The number of visitors to the building is nearer 5000 per day. The number of books issued for home use in 1898 was about 20,000.
To summarize the merely negative aspects of the situation: the Library of Congress is not now, as a collection, an organic collection, even for the most particular service that it has to render ; it is not yet classified, nor equipped with the mechanism necessary to its effective use ; the present organization is but partial ; and the resources have yet to be provided not merely for proper development of the collection, but for the work of bringing the existing material into condition for effective service.
He would indeed be a cynic who at this stage would regard only such negatives. The positive and the assuring side is that for this institution Congress has provided the most magnificent habitation at the service of any library, and cannot but intend that the Library itself shall take rank corresponding.
As to its future there has been discussion, and there will be much more : the Library is in a position where it cannot escape interest, speculation, and suggestion. Broad and varied opportunities are proposed for it, some of which are not without attraction. But they are not to be considered to the neglect of the duty which is fundamental and near at hand. The purpose of this article is not to prophesy a future for the Library, but to recall the significant incidents of its past, and to describe, as simply as may be, the existing conditions, an appreciation of which must precede any serviceable discussion of its future.
- The possibility of a complete printed catalogue in book form I refrain from discussing. Such could not properly be undertaken until after the completion of the card catalogue, and would then involve in its preparation and publication a period of perhaps fifteen years, and the expenditure, for publication alone, of over a quarter of a million dollars. Compare the estimate for such a catalogue of the Boston Public Library, made by Mr. J. L. Whitney, and contained in the last report of the trustees. It would comprise, he figures, 30 volumes and 30,000 pages. A book catalogue of the Bibliothèque Nationale was begun, the first volume being issued in 1897. It was under authors only. It cost $8000. The complete work would necessitate 80 volumes, and on the same scale cost $640,000. It has been suspended.↩
- Quarterly Review, October, 1898↩
- 1892. Fifty-Second Congress, first session, resolution 8.↩