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LC 21: A Digital Strategy for the Library of Congress
acute awareness that the questions will be answered decisively—perhaps within a very few years.
The Library of Congress has totemic value as the largest and most prestigious library collection in the world. Its nature and location mean that it is perhaps used less (considering the size of its collections) than many smaller libraries, but the value of the use to which it is put is very high. Unique materials from all over the world are found there. The size and scope of the collection make it an invaluable laboratory for scholarly researchers. Equally important, the value of the collection means that its preservation is a task of national and global urgency.
But the central mission of the Library remains to serve the Congress that gives it a name and a budget. That mission sets up one tension that the Library has learned to manage. The possibility of extending access to its materials more easily than ever to individuals who do not wish to travel to Capitol Hill sets up another. Should the Library focus more attention on a broader American public? Does it have a role to play in direct library service to K-12 schools? Can and should it make the materials in its collection easily accessible to individual readers of all ages at home or in the office?
The Committee on an Information Technology Strategy for the Library of Congress was convened by the Computer Science and Telecommunications Board (CSTB), which had been invited by the Library in 1998 to review the status of information technology planning and implementation in the Library with a view to helping it handle tensions like those just mentioned and helping it fulfill its missions. The committee’s task was emphatically not to prescribe a mission for the Library—that is for Congress and the Library itself to do. But the committee has ranged widely through the Library and its services and facilities in a fascinating voyage of exploration and interpretation. This report offers the Library support and guidance, along with some strong cautions, at this pivotal time.
The committee is firm in its belief that the Library continues to play a vital role in documenting and preserving the history of American creativity and in building a collection with truly worldwide scope. But the Library cannot go on as before.
The committee fears greatly that the Library’s function as a creature of Congress, within the federal bureaucracy, will make it unable to respond in a timely and effective way to the challenges that it faces. It sees signs that the Library is already losing the momentum and purchase required to make the next steep ascent. It is not so much that the Library is objectively behind other libraries in what it has done (although it is far from a leader in most areas) but that it is not thinking far enough ahead to enable it to act strategically and coherently.
At the heart of its recommendations is the committee’s strong aware-