oped its own collection at the same time as it has facilitated the growth and interdependency of the worldwide collection of the treasures of human creativity. It is evidently impossible that copies of everything should ever be found in a single place—it takes an Alexandrian monarch3 or an Argentinian poet4 to imagine such things. But it is far from impossible that collections great and small will one day be so tightly interlinked by the exchange of data about their holdings that we will eventually know where and how to find a vastly larger percentage of the materials held in them. The last two generations have already seen huge progress in this regard, going back to LC’s epochal agreement to disseminate cataloging information from its holdings and now leveraged to a wider world by such widely accessible catalogs as the Research Library Group’s (RLG’s) Eureka or the Online Computer Library Center’s (OCLC’s) WorldCat.

All of these real achievements pale by comparison with what can be imagined for the world of cyberspace. Far more information from far more sources can be brought together in nearly real time. The floods of new, increasingly available electronic information can be drawn together, sorted, filtered, and made usefully accessible. Such a possibility is easy to evoke but difficult to achieve. The question of achieving it strikes at the heart of the way in which the Library of Congress goes about its business.

A further prefatory remark is needed here to understand the possibilities for LC. As is brought out in the preceding chapters, the materials that LC embraces are many and various and growing in diversity. For a long time, traditional library materials have formed only a part of the collection: beyond books and journals and maps, LC has been collecting advertising materials, motion pictures, and baseball cards. What all of those materials have in common, however, is their physicality, their collectibility as physical artifacts. The grandeur of LC rests on the size, variety, and value of the physical artifacts gathered there.

Today, at least three additional categories of information material challenge LC’s traditional practices. This brief outline resumes some of the discussion of earlier chapters, taking care not to recommend what LC should be collecting but emphasizing the decisions and strategies required no matter what the decisions on content may be. The categories of material are as follows:

  • Born-digital—Under this heading fall materials containing socially valuable and interesting information created in electronic form. Typi-

3  

For an elaboration, see The Vanished Library, by L. Canfora (Berkeley, Calif: University of California Press, 1989). The dream of Alexandria resurfaces in the contemporary project to build a new, ambitious (but conceptually questionable) library on or near the ancient site.

4  

For an elaboration, see “The Library of Babel,” by J. Borges, in his Ficciones (New York: Grove Press, 1962), pp. 79-88.



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