The most famous library of all

…has a profoundly, spectacularly, authoritatively shiny nose.

Technically speaking, the British Library, the Library of Alexandria, and Borges’ Library of Babel are probably in the lead for sheer mythical stature. The Library of Congress, however, has some mean subject headings to its name. More importantly, its appeal to me as a blindly, violently patriotic American can not be overstated. I was delighted to learn that they feature a regular podcast, and can think of no better way to round out my short tenure at this blog than by exploring it in depth.

Now, for the dichotomy I’ve set up between “general interest” and “about the library” in prior posts, take note: this is, resoundingly, NPR stuff. Though it goes without saying that I would not at all mind a “history of the Library of Congress” series, the current offerings are exceptionally well-produced.

What they are not, as yet, is unique. Up to late last year (curiously around the same time as a certain president became elect), the only audio hosted here consisted of author interviews from the 2007 and 2008 National Book Festivals; certainly nice, in that you can get your Junot Diaz and your Jodi Picoult in the same broadcast, but otherwise hardly comparable to the material that the Moth or the New Yorker serve up in a given week.

In the meantime, the LoC has waded into some more adventurous waters. Alongside the 2009 Book Festival, they’ve launched a series on Slave Narratives, as well as another entitled “Music and the Brain.” While it’s not immediately clear in what respect the library is tapping into their (virtually unlimited) archives, they do seem to command a diverse range of expert narrators, giving the whole production a “writer-in-residence” feel.

Also, at one point, the narrator introduces his guest via the man’s Wikipedia credentials, which sets a rather hilarious precedent (and gets him a big thumbs-up in my book).

What’s most interesting to me, as a grasping attempt at a takeaway for this blog, is how little “library” so many of these programs have in them. While academic libraries in particular seem to lie on the opposite end of that spectrum, Sunnyvale and even Cornell are remarkable basically for how well they provide general-interest stories. Here we see the Library of Congress, capable of serving up virtually any information imaginable, opting to focus on any odd chapter. Might we say, broadly, that for all intents and purposes everyone’s got the same unlimited resources, and it’s only ever a matter of what we find the enthusiasm to record?

I’m going to enjoy tomorrow’s commute, at any rate.


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