Washington, DC Chapter

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Tour of the Senate Library

Tour of the Senate Library

Chapter members toured the Senate Library on April 25. Please watch the website and chapter emails for news on upcoming events like this!



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Washington Library at Mount Vernon Welcomes DC-Area Librarians, Faculty, and Scholars

Washington Library at Mount Vernon Welcomes DC-Area Librarians, Faculty, and Scholars

By Carol Abrams

[Carol Abrams is earning her MIS degree at the University of Tennessee.]

To celebrate two years of George Washington’s presidential library at Mount Vernon, the library staff invited librarians, faculty, and scholars at nearby institutions for a special look at the library and its collections. Dozens of guests learned about the library’s holdings and opportunities for collaboration during this exclusive event on October 1. The event was held at the library, which is located on a 15-acre site just outside the main entrance to Mount Vernon. The 45,000 square foot complex includes a reading room, a rare books and manuscripts room, a scholars’ residence and a conference wing. Its design blends into the wooded landscape.

The Fred W. Smith National Library for the Study of George Washington holds a treasure trove of original Washington books, manuscripts, and selections from the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association archive. It has more than 15,000 items, including approximately 2,500 rare 18th- and 19th-century volumes, a growing collection of books that were owned by Washington, and some 500 letters, ledgers, and account books that bear Washington’s writing or signature.

There are many opportunities for DC-area information professionals to enjoy the special collections and facilities, but before describing them, I will share a quote from America’s first president that is sure to delight DC/SLA members.

“Knowledge is, in every Country, the surest basis of public happiness.” (January 8, 1790)

In welcoming the group, Sarah Myers, the access services librarian, said that what makes this library shine are the personal relationships that users can develop with the librarians, historians, material culture experts, archaeologists, and horticulturalist there. “We’re friendly librarians,” she said. Everyone is welcome to visit the library for research or recreational reading as long as they make an appointment. To do so, please email the librarians at fwslibrary@mountvernon.org or call 703-780-3600.

The three take-aways from the visit are the resources, the partnership opportunities, and the public events.


The library’s collection covers George Washington, Martha Washington, Mount Vernon, Colonial America, the American Revolution, the Confederation Years, slavery, domestic economies, the Early Republic, life in the eighteenth century, decorative arts, and historic preservation.

In June 2012, the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association broke auction records by acquiring George Washington’s personal copy of the Constitution. The volume is the centerpiece of the Library’s collection of rare books and manuscripts.

Mount Vernon-Washington Library (3)
Since the library opened, it has made other acquisitions such as a previously undocumented 90-page ledger containing the financial records of Washington’s friends and neighbors, William and George William Fairfax. The ledgers are dated 1742, 1748, 1763, and 1772, reflecting various stages in Washington’s life prior to the American Revolution. Chief Librarian and Archivist Mark Santangelo described the scholarly value of these ledgers this way, “The Fairfaxes were an elite Virginia family. Washington did business with them regularly, and he followed their lead as he sought to establish himself as a member of the Virginia gentry. He wanted to keep up with his neighbors, and these ledgers tell us what he bought from the Fairfaxes – sugar, fabrics, thread, draperies, in order to do so.”

Other recent acquisitions include a detailed account written just five months before Washington’s death in which he lists and describes 40 of the enslaved individuals who worked at his estate. Also, the library now has a rare circa-1860s ambrotype showing visitors to Washington’s Tomb. “There is a possibility that Civil War photographer Mathew Brady took this photograph, and that he’s standing there among the group,” said Santangelo.

The following are noteworthy access points to e-resources.

The Library Catalog: Find and explore the library’s collection of 20,000 secondary sources and item-level descriptions of many of the 6,000 manuscripts.

Digital Encyclopedia: Refer to 400 footnoted, scholarly articles on the totality of Washington’s life and experiences.

Digital Collections from Mount Vernon: Peruse Washington family papers; Mount Vernon farm, distillery, and gristmill reports; Mount Vernon publications; and Mount Vernon staff reports and speeches.

Partnership Opportunities

Mount Vernon-Washington Library (8)The library offers residential research fellowships and paid internships for graduate students. Grad students might contribute to the Digital Encyclopedia through scholarly editing, digital publishing, and multimedia creation. Joe Stoltz, the digital services librarian, manages the library’s digital humanities projects and databases, including the Digital Encyclopedia, and welcomed tech savvy grad students to contact him. Several librarians, in special collections and archives, for instance, are receptive to hosting practicums for Master’s Degree candidates in Library and Information Sciences.

The library welcomed university faculty to reach out and cited one partnership with a local professor wherein his students wrote articles – on spec – for the Digital Encyclopedia.

Public Events

The Library offers monthly Ford Evening Book Talks featuring authors and historians discussing their latest books about George Washington and our nation’s Founding Era. These lectures are held in the evening and are free and open to the public (registration is required).  November 12’s book talk features “Under This Roof: The White House and the Presidency – 21 Presidents, 21 Rooms, 21 Inside Stories” by Paul Brandus.

Please refer to the website for all of the public events and programs hosted by the library.

At the Library’s opening in 2013, Pulitzer-Prize-winner David McCullough spoke about Washington’s leadership. He said, “When we choose leaders, we should always take a careful look at how they’ve handled failure. George Washington is the prime example of someone who got back up, kept the faith, and kept going.”

[Some material in this article comes from the Fred W. Smith National Library for the Study of George Washington at Mount Vernon’s publication Washington’s Vision Comes to Life: Celebrating the Library at Mount Vernon (2014)]

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Globe-Trotting at the Library of Congress: DC/SLA Tours Hispanic and European Reading Rooms

By Carol Abrams

Mural painting “Mining for Gold,” Hispanic Reading Room, Library of Congress. Photograph By Carol M. Highsmith, ca. 2000. http://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/2011631434/

Mural painting “Mining for Gold,” Hispanic Reading Room, Library of Congress. Photograph By Carol M. Highsmith, ca. 2000.

[Editor’s Note: Julia Leggett, chair of the DC/SLA International Relations Committee, recently arranged several tours of the foreign language collections at the Library of Congress. Here is Carol Abrams account of one of those tours. Carol is earning her MIS degree at the University of Tennessee. ]

Cervantes’ Don Quixote has been translated into more languages than any other book save the Bible, according to Juan Perez, acting head of the Hispanic Reading Room at the Library of Congress (LC). Perez told a group from DC/SLA that a first edition of Don Quixote from 1605 is part of the LC’s collection, along with translations in 33 languages including Bulgarian and Uzbek. This year, the world is celebrating the 400th anniversary of the second part of Don Quixote, which was published in 1615.

The LC’s Hispanic collection began with Thomas Jefferson’s books on Latin America. Jefferson owned Spanish-language titles, dictionaries, and, of course, his own copy of Cervantes’ masterpiece. As  Perez showed us around the room, which is designed as an homage to 15th century Spain and Portugal with vaulted ceilings, light fixtures in the Mudéjar tradition that blends European and Arabic influences, and tiles from Pueblo, Mexico, he spoke of the wall-sized murals that flank the room. Visitors are welcomed by a series of bold murals by Portuguese artist Cândido Portinari and then come upon Christopher Columbus’ coat of arts as they enter the room.

Hispanic Reading Room-LOC

Hispanic Reading Room, Library of Congress, Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress

Perez highlighted treasures from among the ten to 12 million items that comprise the Hispanic collection, such as Christopher Columbus’ Book of Privileges from 1502. Columbus compiled the honors, titles, and powers bestowed upon him by the Crown (some would say as an insurance policy for his heirs).

Perez told the DC/SLA group that the LC has recordings of well over 650 writers reading selections from their own works in a collection titled the “Archive of Hispanic Literature on Tape.” This includes eight Nobel Prize winners such as Gabriel García Márquez (Colombia) and Octavio Paz (Mexico).

Our second stop was hosted by Grant Harris, head of the European Reading Room at the Library of Congress.

European Reading Room, Library of Congress, Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress

European Reading Room, Library of Congress, Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress

Harris told us that half the researchers coming to the European Division are seeking material about Russia. Their Russian collection is as large as any outside of Russia itself and includes post-Soviet material and the Comintern Archives Database. Harris, who specializes in Albania, Kosovo, Moldova, and Romania, showed us current, unbound Slavic and Baltic periodicals (about 3,500 titles). Harris told the DC/SLA group about his collecting trips overseas and the value of being an inveterate collector. The European Division’s sets of telephone and address directories from decades ago have enabled genealogists, among others, to track where their ancestors lived and when they moved.

Harris led the group through the shelving decks to a magnificent and unique vantage point over the LC’s main reading room. There, he entertained us with a story about seeing Chelsea Clinton in the main reading room when she was in high school. She was preparing for a model United Nations with material that the librarians had pulled for her.

If you would like to visit either the Hispanic or European Divisions of the LC, please stop first at the Madison Building to register for a free Reader Identification Card issued by the Library.

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Behind the Scenes at the Federal Reserve Research Library

Sculpture at the entrance of the Federal Reserve Research Library

There have been a couple of tours of the Federal Reserve Research Library recently, one of which was organized by the Catholic University of America Student Chapter of SLA. CUA student Colleen Funkhouser wrote up a recap of the tour, describing what she learned about the roles of the librarians there.

You can read Colleen’s post here: Behind the Scenes at the Federal Reserve Research Library

Thanks to CUA student and DC/SLA Communications Committee member Sam Russell for the tip off.

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Library Visit – Rare Books at the National Gallery

Photos and write-up by Carol Abrams

Rare books at the National Gallery of Art-2015 (5)The rare book librarian at the National Gallery of Art shared some of his collection’s gems with members of the Washington Rare Book Group, who graciously included me in their visit. Thanks to librarian Yuri Long’s hospitality, we saw books handmade by artists, books designed by photographers such as Walker Evans, illustrations by Max Ernst, and more. Joan Miró illustrated one book we saw; the book was issued unbound as a portfolio with large-scale fold-outs. Miró was fascinated with literature, writers, and poets and illustrated 263 books, catalogs, and albums throughout his career according to the Park West Gallery in Michigan.


Rare books at the National Gallery of Art-2015 (9)The National Gallery of Art Library’s rare book collection includes roughly 800 artist’s books.  The collection includes a copy of Moby Dick; Or, the Whale with 100 wood engravings by Barry Moser, each of which was signed by the artist. Rare book librarian Yuri Long is fond of the books that are homages to other artists, such as Dégas in Rome by Charles Hobson. Hobson writes in his author’s note that he has written the diary he imagines Dégas would have written during his time in Rome. Hobson write, “I sat at a table in the loggia of the Villa Farnesina in front of the Raphael painting of Galatea and sketched it from the same distance and perspective Dégas did 150 years earlier.” The book includes page-edge designs from an actual Dégas sketchbook. This book is part of the Gallery’s collection of modern and contemporary art books, many of which are handmade by artists in small editions. Another is Hamlet told in multi-colored wood blocks.

Rare books at the National Gallery of Art-2015 (2)Visits to the collection are available by appointment. The rare book librarian at the National Gallery of Art can be reached at y-long@nga.gov

Carol Abrams is earning her MIS degree at the University of Tennessee.

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