An Interview with the Director of Communications, Library of Congress
Thank you so much to Matt Raymond, Director of Communications for the Library of Congress. He took time out of his incredibly busy schedule to answer a few questions for me. Mr. Raymond writes the blog for the Library of Congress, in addition to his other duties.
LG: What do you see as the primary role of the Library of Congress? Aside from its sheer immensity, what is its most important function?
MR: The Library of Congress, as our name implies, serves the U.S. Congress and is part of the Legislative Branch. But we are also a remarkable resource for the public and the world, making our collections and programs available in 21 reading rooms and 22 million items on our Web site. The Library of Congress still exists in the tradition of Thomas Jefferson as a universal repository of human knowledge, helping provide the foundation of the informed citizenry, wisdom and human understanding that are necessary for the health of our democracy.
LG: What's available to visitors of the LOC? Is it actually a circulating library?
MR: One of the first questions people usually ask here is, "Where are all the books?" There are indeed millions of them, and generally they're most readily available and for use by the public in our various reading rooms if you have a "reader registration card," our version of a library card. We also participate in Interlibrary Loan with both domestic and foreign libraries.
Visitors on Capitol Hill can marvel at the Thomas Jefferson Building itself, constructed in 1897 in the style of the Italian Renaissance and considered by many to be the most beautiful building in Washington, D.C.
We also offer free events, such as author lectures, poetry readings and a wide variety of concerts, plus wonderful exhibits on the history and culture of our nation and world. The exhibits draw on our collection of 134 million items, which grows at a rate of 10,000 items per day, and comprise virtually every format—not just books, but also films, sound recordings, manuscripts, prints, photographs, maps--and they're found in roughly 470 different languages.
In April 2008, we will be reintroducing the Library to the public like never before in the Thomas Jefferson Building and online with a new experience for visitors. The impetus is the new Capitol Visitor Center, to which the Jefferson Building will be connected by an underground passageway, which we expect will significantly increase our on-site visitors. We will use cutting-edge technology to present history and culture in a fun, engaging and educational way, side by side with such original artifacts as the Rough Draft of the Declaration of Independence, written in Jefferson's own hand, or the 1507 Waldseemueller Map, which is the first map to use the word "America" and is often called "America's Birth Certificate."
LG: Are there regular seminars or workshops available there, for library professionals?
MR: Yes, there are, for library professionals and educators alike. And as often as possible, we try to bring this kind of outreach directly into communities, and we are looking to our Web site to expand on some of these opportunities. The Internet has opened up new possibilities for the Library of Congress that are limited only by our resources and by human ingenuity.
LG: How long has the blog been operating? What's its focus?
MR: We officially launched the blog on April 24, 2007, which was the 207th birthday of the Library of Congress. It is tough to boil down the essence of this vast and amazing institution in a single blog with a single author, and a lot of helpers, but I try to act as a bit of a navigator for readers around the many events, programs and activities that are constantly going on here. Readership of blogs just keeps going up, and it's a natural way people expect to get information and, especially, to interact. Government and educational institutions clearly need to be a part of the vibrant dialog that is taking place on blogs.
LG: What's been the most memorable part of your job, since becoming Director of Communications?
MR: Wow, where to start? Every day is memorable in its own way, and every day there is the stimulation of learning or experiencing something new.
But one day that sticks out was when we showed some of our "top treasures" to a video crew. Some of those will be on display for visitors beginning next April, but at the time, it was a rare opportunity for me. So here I was looking at original drafts of, say, the Emancipation Proclamation or the Second Inaugural address, both in Lincoln's hand, and I was surprised at the emotional response they provoked in me. I hope it doesn't sound corny, but there was something very deeply moving about seeing such beautiful and important words, which changed the course of our history, written in the hands of the great figures who wrote or spoke them. Moments like that really help to connect past and present, and in unexpected ways.
LG: What's your background? Had you been working in the library field previously?
MR: I'm not a librarian by training, but about half of the Library's 4,000 employees are. My degree is in journalism, and I was a TV reporter for a few years coming out of school. I had previously fallen in love with Washington, D.C., so when I got the opportunity to move here and work in the Congress, I leapt at it. I worked there for eight years and then worked a few more years at USDA and UNICEF before coming to the Library. This is definitely a dream job, though.
LG: What do you enjoy reading? Have you read anything lately you'd recommend?
MR: We hold the National Book Festival every year on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., and I have to say my favorite pavilion is History & Biography. I just read Michael Beschloss's book called "Presidential Courage." I'm a big fan of writers like him, David McCullough, Doris Kearns Goodwin, and others who can make history come alive in a very novelistic way. We tend to think of historical figures as these towering, infallible icons, so I am endlessly fascinated to learn about them more as actual people--what motivated them, how they suffered many of the same basic or mundane problems the rest of us do.
LG: Anything else you'd like the general public to know about the LOC and what it offers?
MR: Well, a motto we have used for a while is that we are "more than a library." This is not just some museum of the book, it is an active and dynamic place with a lot of great things to see and experience. We want visitors to come for the exhibits or for the aesthetics of the Jefferson Building, but we also want them to become lifelong learners and patrons of the Library of Congress, or their own libraries. The Internet is easily one of the most significant achievements in history, but it is quite breath-taking to think how much is in libraries that you cannot possibly find on the Web. There is a very big iceberg out there, and too many people see only the tip.