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Mary Niles Maack, ed. The Library of Congress and The Center for the Book: Historical Essays in Honor of John Y. Cole.

Mary Niles Maack, ed. The Library of Congress and The Center for the Book: Historical Essays in Honor of John Y. Cole. Washington, DC: Library of Congress in association with the University of Texas Press; New Castle, DE: Oak Knoll Press, 2011.224 pp.; US $24.95 ISBN 9780844495255

This monograph consists of a collection of articles on the history of the Library of Congress and the Center for the Book, in honour of John Y. Cole, a librarian and historian who has worked at the Library of Congress since 1966. Cole was appointed director of the Center for the Book when it was formed in 1977, and as one contributor states, he is "the unofficial historian of the Library of Congress" (65), a well-earned title to which the twenty-seven-page bibliography appended to this book attests. The nine articles that appear in this festschrift originally appeared in a 2010 special issue of Information & Culture (formerly Libraries & the Cultural Record) (45, no. 1). They are reprinted in their entirety, along with a new essay by Cole.

The first few articles provide quick summaries of the history of both the Library of Congress and the Center for the Book. Cole's "A Life at the Library of Congress" provides an overview of the creation of the Center for the Book--the discussions, financing problems and decisions, and institutional involvement in this process. This article is followed by three others that provide various histories of the library: Jane Aikin's "Histories of the Library of Congress" succinctly summarizes the various histories that have been written about the Library of Congress; Josephus Nelson's "Properly Arranged and Properly Recorded: The Library of Congress Archives" provides a history of the struggle to establish permanent archives at the Library of Congress; and Guy Lamolinara's "The National and International Roles of the Center for the Book" summarizes the various activities that the Center for the Book has undertaken, such as special programs for young readers and the National Book Festival, throughout its development from a "modest organization into a nationwide network of literacy and reading advocates who share the Center's zeal for the importance of books, reading, and book culture" (70). This group of articles would be ideal reading for someone who is interested in a brief overview of the history of these two institutions; however, since they are all fairly short they should be viewed as a jumping-off point on the topic.

The next collection of articles discusses the Center for the Book in relation to the field of book history. Eleanor Shevlin and Eric Lindquist's "The Center for the Book and the History of the Book" notes that the "development of the Center [for the Book] not only coincided but also intertwined with the emergence of book history as a field, especially from 1977 to 1980, years that were foundational to both," and then argues that "[w]hat has not been sufficiently recognized is the important role [John Y.] Cole and the Center have played in nurturing book history in the United States and indeed internationally" (88). While the article does note some interesting parallels between the two, such as the Center for the Book hosting conferences that were important to the early development of the book history field, its attempt to create a correlation between the two is heavy-handed at times. Regardless, the article does make a compelling case that the relationship between book history as a field and the Center for the Book is worthy of further academic study.

The most compelling article in the book is Carl Ostrowski's "'The Choice of Books': Ainsworth Rand Spofford, the Ideology of Reading, and Literary Collections at the Library of Congress in the 1870s." Ostrowski complicates the notion that Spofford (Librarian of Congress from 1864-97) "was a visionary librarian who put aside his personal taste [in literature] in the interest of establishing the Library of Congress as a national library with comprehensive collections" (102). Outside of his role as a professional librarian, Spofford spoke out against popular "low-brow" books, such as dime novels. Despite this personal reading ideology, Spofford brought about changes to the copyright act in 1870, requiring two copies of every book submitted for copyright protection in the United States to be deposited at the Library of Congress. This meant that books that Spofford personally distrusted were being kept and preserved at the Library of Congress because of his own actions as librarian. Ostrowski, however, notes two subtleties to the 1870 Copyright Deposit Law that suggest that the narrative is not so simple. First, the law did not stipulate what constituted a "book," and second, the law was only enforceable for "the product of the American Press," which meant that the large market of reprinted and pirated books was not subject to the Deposit Law. These two aspects of the copyright law meant that a number of the books that Spofford rallied against in his personal life --sensational and dime novels, which were often reprints of British authors--were not legally required to be deposited. By consulting the catalogues of the Library of Congress for the period in which Spofford was librarian, Ostrowski notes that the library purchased a number of these but not all of them, allowing Spofford some control over which nineteenth-century writers would be remembered, and read, by future generations.

Since the Library of Congress published this monograph, it is not surprising that few of the articles take a critical stance on the institution. While some of these articles might be of interest to scholars, they can easily be found in Information & Culture where they were originally published. Republishing the special issue of the journal as a monograph is presumably an attempt to distribute the text to a larger, non-academic audience; unfortunately, the appeal of this book to a general reader is limited. The book as a whole would probably find interest mostly with graduate students and academics studying the history of libraries, or the Center for the Book specifically.


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Author:Doody, Christopher
Publication:Papers of the Bibliographical Society of Canada
Article Type:Book review
Date:Sep 22, 2012
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