Sunday, March 23, 2008

What's the Issue?

By May, the Library of Congress's European Reading Room could be no more. This exquisite facility has been the home for graduate students, foreign visitors, and world-class researchers of all types. It is staffed by some of the best reference professionals and materials available, and is one-of-a-kind worldwide. Losing it would damage not only American students but would be a slap in the face of our European colleagues who come to the U.S. to study -- in recognition of the immense value of the Library of Congress. No other reading room is on the chopping block. Those who value American-European cultural exchange and the Library of Congress's role in it need to make their voices heard NOW. Learn more from the posts below or join us now -- if you do not have a gmail account, write us here and we will add you to our listserv.


Anonymous said...

This is outrageous. Europeans are our closest allies. How can we be threatening cultural relations with them by this nonsense? The Library needs to come clean about what's motivating this. It's going to damage the library's reputation.

Anonymous said...

On Tuesday, March 18 2008, the Library of Congress, under pressure from The Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Commission (ALBC), decided to close the European Reading Room in order to extend the current exhibition area to commemorate in 2009 the 200th Anniversary of Abraham Lincoln’s birth. The Library intends to organize a six-month exhibit, which was initially supposed to be held in the Madison Building, but the Commission insisted that it be housed in the Jefferson Building at the expense of the European Reading Room. One of the arguments for choosing this location is that the European Reading Room is underused, which is untrue. It is the most used specialized reading room at the Library of Congress. Scholars of Europe from all over the world come to work in this excellent research facility.
However, the Library of Congress will make extra revenue on the exhibit and has decided to sacrifice the European Reading Room for this financial gain. As a result, the Library of Congress’s mission becomes commercial and touristic, not scholarly. Scholars who are currently using the room will lose access to the first-class reference staff and superb, easily accessible reference materials.
Several questions arise: If it is important that the Lincoln exhibition be in the Jefferson Building, why can’t other currently scheduled exhibitions move over temporarily to the large available exhibition space in Madison? Why is the administration sacrificing its research facilities when the Library’s primary mission is to serve as a unique research facility? I strongly encourage you to protest this short-sightedness. We need to save this room for future scholars of Europe. Make your voices heard and post your comments on the Bicentennial Commission blog and write to the main librarian of the Library of Congress, Dr. Billington, who is himself a scholar of Russia.

Anonymous said...

I have notified several of my friends in the scholarly community. Have organizations such as the AHA been contacted?

Anonymous said...

The ERR is one of the best and most accessible rooms at the LOC. We need to spread the word as widely as possible expecially among professional organizations.

CEP said...

As a Russianist I am always getting notes about the various archives and reading rooms that are closing indefinitely for "remont" over in Russia, thereby rendering their collections off-limits (or extremely hard to access) to researchers. I never thought this would happen in the US. It's appalling. Where are we supposed to consult with reference specialists, our colleagues, and have all the materials at our fingertips like we do in the Reading Room? I am a regular user of the Main RR, and although it is fine for general research (provided you are really patient, and need no more than general help!), for dissertation and book research, such as I will be conducting from April 1 on, you need the environs and resources that are only available in the ERR. I would think they'd want to expand it, rather than relegating it to little to nonexistent space.

AAF said...

There is talk about the ERR "temporarily" moving. This is no excuse! The chances that the ERR will return to its present location after the Lincoln Exhibit is, in my opinion, virtually nil. The new hall will be used for exhibition space, which will bring in a lot of money. This is a stand for principles and philosophy.

Henriette deBK said...

The Library's own website, especially Strategic Plan Fiscal Years 2008-2013, proudly proclaims the institution's
"mission of acquiring, preserving, and making accessible the world’s knowledge".

Similar glowing statements about the European Division and the European Reading Room as worthy bastions of scholarship via the main website,

Let's hold the Librarian and the members of Congress's 'Joint Committee on the Library' to their words!

Jessica Pickett said...

I was very disappointed to learn from a colleague that the United States Government has elected to favor a tourist exhibit over a resource for serious academic research: the European Reading Room at the Library of Congress. Thanks for trying to save it!

AAK said...

Today, one of my colleagues said: “The European Reading Room would not be in danger of closing if the Cold War were still going on.” The entire situation is bizarre. As a scholar, I find the LOC’s decision a slap in the face of the entire scholarly community. What is the primary mission of the LOC? Not exhibit halls or daily attendance records, but the collection and preservation of precious texts that researchers can access at their will. This is what Thomas Jefferson envisioned.

P.S. We will lose access to superb reference material and the best staff at the LOC.

rlambertz said...

The ERR is the most wonderful place for doing research on Europe, it would be a shame to close it down!
I am a Franco-German PhD student and, even though I live in Paris, the ERR has become my second home over the last three years. Every time I need information I cannot find at the Bibliotheque Nationale in Paris or at the Staatsbibliothek in Berlin, I am sure that I can find it in the ERR of the LOC. The resources of the ERR are worth paying for a flight to the U.S.!
The reference librarians are extraordinarily helpful and knowledgeable and the working atmosphere is wonderful (excellent choice of reference books, fast book delivery, no constant noise as in the Bibliotheque Nationale, very nice tables...) To my knowledge, this reading room is the best resource in the world for researchers on Europe. An additional exhibit area may increase the stream of visitors in the short term, but closing down the ERR will definitely diminish the LOC's comparative advantage over other libraries in the world in the long run. The LOC is known to be the best library in the world - is an exhibit area really worth loosing that reputation and becoming just another tourist attraction? Is a library without researchers even of any interest to visitors?

Henriette deBK said...

The email links to the members of the Joint Committee on the Library direct you to their Congressional webpages, on which you need to go to the 'Contact Us' tab. This will open a one-way email portal in which you can submit your comments. The Congressmember's email address does not show.

Check out the Chronicle of Higher Education online article dd 26 March

Spread the word, and please write to all the power brokers.

Bryan A. said...

Amazing that such a resource would be closed -- for pecuniary gain that is outside of its purview as a source of scholarly activity. It would seem that temporary exhibitions should not displace permanent resources that have shown their value. Why not focus on a designated space that can provide for rotating exhibitions? I wonder what will be next if such actions are allowed without a larger discussion of how space in public resources get raided.

Henriette deBK said...

The LC's Deanna Marcum has distorted the truth about merely 'relocating' the ERR:

Her words:

Quote A:
...the reading room will be in the adjacent pavilion, a room that is
even more beautiful, and a space that was originally designed as a
specialized reading room. There will be no disruption in services to our readers

The adjacent pavillion is about 50-60% the size of the current reading room
Yes, the pavillion is empty, but it has horrible acoustics.

No one has been able to produce the following documentation that
proves that the LC is prepared for a seamless relocation of the
current ERR to the pavillion:
1] an approved BUDGETto show that the money is on hand to turn the pavillion into a reading room [it has been said that money will not be available, period, because we are in the middle of a war]
2] architectural and construction DRAWINGS for the refurbishing of
the pavillion
[however, drawings to turn the ERR into the Lincoln exhibition space exist]
3] a firm TIME-LINE that covers the closure of the current ERR and
the opening of the refurbished pavillion [All we know is that the current ERR will close for business by mid-May, right around the time that university professors and students descend on the LC for their summer research. Initial relocation of reference materials is supposed to start as early as mid-April.]

The only way that a major disruption of service can be avoided is for the Pavillion to be completely refurbished and ready to receive the reference materials BEFORE the first book is removed from the current ERR.

We have not seen any indication that such attempts are being made.
Unless the LC management is able to produce all of the above mentioned documentation, we can safely assume that the European Reading Room will cease to exist before the start of summer.

Quote B:
On-site researchers are declining in number, as we should expect as we digitize resources for the Web; meanwhile, our Web users grow at an
amazing rate.

The self-proclaimed mission of the LC is to Quote ''[make]
maximally accessible its unique and comprehensive repository of the
world's knowledge'' Unquote
The type of in-depth research done by scholars in the ERR [and in the
other specialized reading rooms, for that matter] can not be done via the Web. The LC's online Web users can access glossy exhibition sites and digitized versions of the few highlights of the Library's famous collection. The international scholarly community delves into volumes that will never merit to be digitized because the works are too specialized.

Please pass this information along to fellow scholars.

Dr. Henriette de Bruyn Kops
Georgetown University

Nick said...

Of all the research libraries I used to write my Ph. D. dissertation and the book that emerged from it, the European Reading Room provided the best service. This is amazing when you consider the size of the library's collection and the number of readers, but that is precisely what they do -- make it all more manageable and personal. I'm sure they will maintain their professionalism wherever they are located, but space also matters. I don't think I ever used the reference materials on the wall, but I found the RR's roominess conducive to contemplation and writing. I fear that won't be possible in the confines of the SE Pavilion, where the fight for space would surely be a distraction.

I'm also disturbed by what this action indicates about the ratio of research to tourism in the library. The library already devotes too much space to tourists, compromising its core mission of research. I find it hard to believe that there isn't enough space for a Lincoln exhibit in the existing museum space.

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