If you watch as much Bravo as I do, you’ll know that one of the most dramatic moments of this year’s spring season of The Millionaire Matchmaker took place when love doctor Patti Stanger “accidentally” set-up businessman Justin Ross Lee with an ex-adult film star, prompting him to tell his date angrily, “You have the Library of Congress of porn!” Lee’s comment isn’t exactly on point — there’s no Library of Congress devoted to pornography, obviously — but it wasn’t as far off from the truth as you’d imagine. Pornographic films are just one of the many genres of work housed in the Library of Congress.
Besides directing us to the culture-defining smut stored in the library’s shelves, the fact that Lee referenced the Library of Congress also shows that, despite the increasing number of virtual sources of information available in our digital age, libraries are still far from obsolete. As you’ll see below, the Library of Congress is constantly making efforts to stay current. Sometimes they’re successful and sometimes they’re just strange, but either way, read through this list of nine facts about the Library of Congress to celebrate the 214th birthday of one of America’s most important institutions.
1. The Library of Congress thinks Big Bird is a “Living Legend.”
Since 2000, curators at the Library of Congress have been handing out the title of Living Legend to those who have provided “examples of personal excellence that have benefited others and enriched the nation.” Some of the people that the library has chosen to honor are obvious — Sally Ride, for example — but things start to get hazy in the authors category. I love Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret as much as the next 20-something American woman, but is Judy Blume really more of a classicist than Cormac McCarthy?
Things really start to get weird, though, in the entertainment section, where Big Bird is praised for having “delighted children of all ages around the world with his infectious charm.” Keep your eyes peeled for Harry Potter on next year’s list of honorees.
2. 12,000 items are added to the library every day.
The Library of Congress adds the majority of its contents via copyright deposit, but even so, 12,000 is still a pretty huge number, especially when you consider that every submission is reviewed by selection officers who decide what will be added to permanent collections. Most of the copyright deposits are from movies, photographs and music, which makes for a hell of a lot of bad pop songs to listen to.
3. The Library of Congress was destroyed — twice.
After the original Library of Congress was established in 1800, it was burnt down less than two decades later by the British army during the War of 1812. The library was rebuilt in 1815 after the government purchased Thomas Jefferson’s private collection of 6,487 books, but again suffered a huge loss when a fire destroyed two-thirds of its materials. By 2008, librarians had found replacements for all but 300 of the books lost from Jefferson’s original collection, and the library today houses more than 12 million books.
4. Everything you tweet is being preserved by the Library of Congress.
Every day Twitter users send 400 million messages, and the Library of Congress is attempting to collect each one, calling them “the story of America.” In April 2010, the library signed a deal with Twitter that would allow it access to tweets dating back to 2006, and they’ve since been adding them to their online archives. If you’ve made your Twitter private or have deleted tweets, you can relax: The library has left those out of its collection. Otherwise, though, nothing is off limits. Drunk tweeting just got a lot less fun, didn’t it?
5. On the Library of Congress playlist: U2, Sweeney Todd, Isaac Hayes.
Despite its massive book collection, the library only has a recording registry of just 400 entries. The 25 added this year — each at least 10 years old, as per regulation — include U2’s The Joshua Tree, songs from the 1979 musical Sweeney Todd and “Theme from Shaft” by Isaac Hayes. The library’s choices are certainly all historic, but it probably shouldn’t try DJing anytime soon.
6. The Library of Congress is ... kind of bigoted?
To be fair, the Library of Congress is a huge institution and two incidents probably aren’t reflective of its entire body of employees, but that still doesn’t excuse the fact that two discrimination suits have been brought against the library in recent years. In 2008, a Library of Congress employee won a federal lawsuit against her employer because she had been refused a job after making it known she was transitioning from male to female. Another employee recently brought a case against his supervisor for job discrimination due to sexual orientation. Library of Congress, we love you, but get it together.
7. The Library of Congress collects porn.
C’mon, you didn’t think that every film the library catalogs stars Ken Burns, did you? The Library of Congress has an X-rated section of material, including pornographic films, which the Chief of the Library’s Motion Picture, Broadcasting and Recorded Sound Division explained are a “comprehensive collection of [the] world’s knowledge and America’s creativity.” If you’d like to check out the selection from the privacy of your own home, visit the library’s online catalog, where you’ll find some decidedly un-governmental materials.
8. In December 2013, a secret FBI interrogation manual was discovered at the Library of Congress.
In 2010, an FBI interrogation manual was accidentally registered for copyright by an organization official, making the document available to the public in the Library of Congress database. Secret government documents don’t need copyrights (duh), and the agent apparently didn’t even register for the copyright under the FBI’s name but his own. An edited version of the handbook was released to the ACLU in 2011 (before the mistakenly filed one was discovered by Mother Jones in 2013), and apparently a comparison of the two reveals some startling revisions. Never before has copyright law seemed so exciting.
9. In 2010, the Library of Congress banned WikiLeaks.
You might think that a government institution with a private porn collection would be against all forms of censorship, but in 2010, along with other federal agencies, the Library of Congress banned access to WikiLeaks on all of its computer systems. The library based their decision on laws which “[obligate] federal agencies to protect classified information.” The choice to block WikiLeaks prompted mixed reactions, many from librarians themselves. Whatever you think of the library’s response to WikiLeaks, it’s an interesting case of censorship to consider.
Did any of these facts blow your mind? Have we missed any awesome Library of Congress secrets that you know about? Let us know in the comments below!
Adina Applebaum is Michigan native studying English and creative writing at Barnard College. Her crowning achievements in life are memorizing all the lyrics on The Slim Shady LP and eating an entire gallon of chocolate-covered raisins during orientation week of college.
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