October 1, 2013

How will our country operate without the LOC?


The country is bracing for a temporary shutdown of the Library of Congress, beginning today. The twenty-five library system will be closed to the public and researchers, according to an announcement on the site you can’t see, and all public events are canceled. The digital collections, online catalog, and “Ask A Librarian” services are temporarily suspended.

While the library is shut down, 34.5 million books and 66.6 million manuscripts will be inaccessible to the public. The largest rare book collection in the U.S. will sit on shelves, unread.

No one will listen to the 10,000 recordings in the National Jukebox, browse the million items in the prints and photographs collection, or explore the country’s military maps. The recently-released annotated Constitution will be taken offline.

How will students, researchers, and curious internet users keep working without access to these resources? What can we expect if we search for materials in the Library of Congress’s collection?

“Visitors to the site or those who follow a link to an internal page from a search engine result, for example, would see a simple splash page explaining the current status of the federal government,” explained Gayle Osterberg, director of communications for the Library of Congress, before the shutdown, in correspondence with Ars Technica.

“Many of the services offered through our websites, such as reference services and cataloging queries, require staffing,” Osterberg said by e-mail. “Those activities and corresponding expenditures are not allowed in the event of a shutdown.”

The National Archives and Records Administration and the Smithsonian Institution will also be closed. The Institutes for Museum and Library Sciences will operate with just four exempted employees. Requests for grant payments from state libraries could be delayed, as well as grant applications, since exempted employees are not allowed to process these requests until after the first week of a shutdown.

The Library of Congress Professional Guild emailed its members that LC employees “will be notified via email if they will be placed in a furlough status by the end of the week. Employees who will be ‘excepted’ from the furlough and expected to report to work will receive notification via an individual memorandum. The unions will also receive a list of employees who have been notified they are excepted from the furlough.”

D.C. mayor Vincent Gray wrote to the federal Office of Management and Budget last week asking that all “essential” personnel — including librarians — be exempted from the shutdown. It didn’t work. Other services labeled nonexempt today: the Giant Panda cam, NASA TV, and, with some exceptions, the rest of the U.S. government.


Kirsten Reach is an editor at Melville House.