Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Function of National Libraries

National libraries are established by governments for three purposes. The first role of a national library is to house the collection of the most important works in that country. There is some debate as to whether or not the Library of Congress is the national library of the United States. Some sites contend that in the U.S., there is no national library, although the Library of Congress is similar in many ways to other national libraries. However, other sites refer to the Library of Congress as the National Library or America’s Library. It seems that if the Library of Congress is, in fact, not the national library of the United States, it is only because it has not specifically been designated as such.
Three main types of National Libraries in the United States
Library of Congress
National Agricultural Library
National Library of Medicine
National bibliographic control is the second purpose of a national library. Some libraries do this through mandatory or legal deposit laws, in which publishers are legally required to submit copies of copyrightable materials to the national library, sometimes even if they do not intend to publish the work.
A third function is to have international bibliographic control. This facilitates the location and acquisition of information by foreign users. Having similar cataloging systems in place is critical to fulfilling this function for the national library.
A complete list of national libraries in the world may be found at:

Do you think there is a National Library of the United States? Give your reasoning.



Liz Drewek said...

I believe that the Library of Congress is our national library, it just doesn't have that title. The mission of the LC is,"to make its resources available and useful to the Congress and the American people and to sustain and preserve a universal collection of knowledge and creativity for future generations(James Billigton, Librarian of Congress)." To me this mission sums up what it is that national libraries do, they collect materials and make them available to the public while at the same time preserving them so that future generations can also have access to them.

The LC was established in 1800 and opened to the public November 1, 1897. It has more than 130 million items. If access to materials by the public and the sheer number of items in the catalog do not qualify the Library of Congress as a national library, what would? The title, "National Library of the U.S.," wouldn't change the LC, it would still be the same place with the same materials and the same mission and philosophy. I'd have to go with Shakespeare, "What's in a name?"

Information from www.loc.gov; Romeo & Juliet

Anonymous said...

The libraries that are named built and named after U.S. Presidents could be considered National Libraries because they contain, exhibit and preserve the portion of our nation's history that relates to the term of that particular president. The Gerald Ford Library in Ann Arbor is an example of this type of library. The Ford Library "collects, preserves, and makes accessible to the public a rich body of archival materials on U.S. domestic issues, foreign relations, and political affairs during the Cold War era. Current holdings include 23 million pages of memos, letters, meeting notes, reports, and other historical documents. Also there are one-half million audiovisual items, including photographs, videotapes of news broadcasts, audiotapes of speeches and press briefings, film of public events, and televised campaign commercials." (Gerald R. Ford Library and Museum, 2004http://www.fordlibrarymuseum.gov/library/aboutlib.asp) The collection also includes the Ford papers and many other federal records. All of these materials give us ways to explore US national history and culture as well as foreign policy and foreign relations under Ford's administration. Students,researchers, journalists, media relations staff and the general public are able to use/view this collection. There is even a section dedicated to children which has letters that children wrote to the President etc. As the Library of Congress has collected materials "so that the American people can have a universal collection of knowledge and creativity for future generations" as the LOC mission statement says, this library has accomplished a similar mission. Many people will benefit from the knowledge, history and creative research experience offered from this library. Each presidential library has its own place in history to help make up our collective national history, just on a smaller scale than the Library of Congress.
This is a reason why Presidential Libraries can be considered national libraries of the United States, or at least branches of national libraries.

Kemps said...

I like Susan's idea of the collective national library made up of the Presidential Libraries.
The Library of Congress doesn't call itself our National Library, however, they do have what they call the National Digital Library Program, which draws from the Library itself as well as other research institutions.
On the Library of Congress website (www.loc.gov/about/librarianoffice/), international relations are described: "The Library has placed online under Dr. Billington's leadership a major bilingual Web site with the two National Libraries of Russia and has launched smaller such joint projects with the national libraries of Brazil, Spain, France, the Netherlands, and Egypt."
Such efforts to facilitate access to information internationally can be seen as one of the charecteristics of a national library as Barbara mentions in the original post under international bibliographic control.

LaurieC said...

I absolutely believe the Library of Congress is our national library. While the name may not fit exactly, the duties, services and mission of the LOC are that of a national library. Additionally, the library refers to itself as,"the nation's oldest federal cultural institution..." which, to me, cinches what a national library is. Perhaps the Library of Congress was formed and named (1800) before the title of national library became the standard? Also, the digital collection preservation group, which is called the "National Digital Information Infrastructure and Preservation Program (NDIIPP), while just the digital arm of the LOC, possibly the name was selected as a way to insert the term, "national" to begin to align the library as the national library of the US.

MG said...

The Library of Congress is in my opinion a national library. Not only should it be considered as such because it possesses a personal copy of printed works by authors, but also because of the information it holds and its bibliographic control. The greatest reason however would be because of its wealth of preserved materials that reflect our nation.

Nate Palmer said...

I know that there is much debate over the issue; it seems from most of our readings that the LC is not a national library. However, it is the very similar to a national library. I think Liz had a great point by stating the mission of the library “to make its resources available and useful to the Congress and the American people and to sustain and preserve a universal collection of knowledge and creativity for future generations(James Billigton, Librarian of Congress)." It basic function was serve as the arm for congress, but it includes so much more.

Carin Monticello said...

I also feel that the Library of Congress is our national library, not only for the sheer size but for the number of resources it provides. While it's main function is to serve congress it also provides these resources for research and learning to the general public at no cost. The Library of Congress reaches out to the entire nation through it's website. They have access to their digital collections online. They also have created progams in which staff members visit schools across the country to make their available resources known.