Posted by: cyndera | September 20, 2010

Internship at LoC : A Final Perspective

This summer I interned with the Library of Congress, more specifically with the Business Reference Section, located in the Adams building right on Capitol Hill. It was an amazing experience.In this article I would like to share some of the things that stood out the most.
The (incredibly knowledgeable) business librarians receive a variety of questions every day, in person, via phone or QuestionPoint. I did not realize that many of the QP questions come from other countries. Answering those is tricky at times, especially when the patron is not a native speaker. In a case like this, the business librarians usually do not try to simply answer the question. They provide sources that leads the patron “into the neighborhood of what they want to know”. As we all know, reference interviews often reveal that the initial question does not describe the actual information need. I learned a lot from this hands-on experience, and it illustrated that librarians do not necessarily know everything … they just know where to find it. Having a broad general knowledge is probably the most important thing we can strive for.
Many patrons are interested in the history of a business. LoC is a great place for doing that kind of research, given the incredible amount of old documents and publications that are stored not only on-site but also off-site at Ft. Meade. The latter  has been designed to preserve fragile materials, using cold storage and even freezers to fight deterioration. I was not able to visit Ft. Meade; however, I spend a considerable amount of time in the LoC stacks, marvelling at collectionsHistoric yellow pages for example. Did you know that back in the day yellow pages would not only list the phone number and address for a company but also the name of the president, vice-president, secretary and other important figures, including their home phone numbers and addresses? What a great resource for people conducting historic research!
Only a fraction of the collection is accessible to the public. Most items have to be retrieved from the stacks. And you have to think BIG here … the stacks are located on 12 floors, many of the underground. If you do not know where an item is located, you will probably never find it. Did you know that the floors at LoC are not only divided into North and South, but are also reversed? Like on a submarine, the first floor is all the way on top, and the twelfth floor is on the bottom.
Aside from working at the reference desk and answering questions on QP I also revised a business guide for Entrepreneurs and Small Business Owners, which will be online at www.loc.gov in the near future. I hope I will be able to share it with you in the next newsletter, and that you will find it useful in one way or another.

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