National Geographic : 1942 Mar
Washington-Storehouse of Knowledge the "Betts," said to be the most nearly perfect and valuable violin in the world. If the perfection of Stradivari lay partly in his varnish, whose secret was lost after 1760, every care is taken to preserve it in these five examples, for they are kept in an even tempera ture day and night. But they are not museum pieces only; they are played frequently in the Coolidge Auditorium of the Library of Con gress by distinguished musicians. The same Music Division has the largest collection of opera librettos, and nearly 20,000 recorded folk songs obtained through years of search in remote mountain and wilderness areas-a real national archive of American folk song. Chinese and Russian Books In another part of the vast building is the largest Russian collection outside of Russia and Finland, and the largest Chinese library outside of China, with many thousands of vol umes in the Japanese, Korean, Tibetan, Man churian, and Mongolian languages as well. The collection is especially rich in local his tories of China, and in descriptions of famous mountains, temples, academies, tombs, gar dens, rivers, and bridges. This great Oriental library exists largely because Dr. Walter T. Swingle, of the Depart ment of Agriculture, seeking to introduce new fruits and vegetables into the United States, wisely insisted years ago that the Library col lect Chinese agricultural and botanical books. This was because practically the same plants can be grown in this country as in China, and because China has a fully documented and un broken record of details of its life for 3,000 years. For years Dr. Joseph F. Rock has added to America's agricultural riches by plant explora tions in China. From one trip, while leading a National Geographic Society expedition, he brought back a blight-resisting chestnut tree and more than 6,000 plants. He also obtained for the Library of Congress a set of priceless Tibetan classics from a Buddhist monastery in Choni. The Rare Book Collection contains more than 127,000 items on public exhibit or in its series of air-conditioned vaults. These books range from illuminated medieval manuscripts through the beginning of printing and book making up to the fine printing of today. There is the exquisite 3-volume copy of the Gutenberg Bible, on vellum, one of the world's most valuable books; John Eliot's Indian Bible of 1663; Do(c)trina Breve, oldest exist ing book printed in the Americas (Mexico, 1544); thousands of incunabula, or books printed in Europe before 1501; the famous library of Thomas Jefferson, reduced two thirds by the fire of 1851; and those of such persons as the last Tsar of Russia, Justice Holmes, Susan B. Anthony, Houdini the magi cian, and Benjamin Franklin. Although sheer physical limitations make it impossible for even this huge library to con tain every book, the progress of coopera tion among libraries and in the field of mechan ization provides substitutes which are even better. On the main floor of the Library, and open to the public, like everything else, is the great Union Catalog, which contains 11,000,000 cards of books in 750 other libraries, thus saving the student the time and expense of correspondence and travel. On the other hand, when smaller libraries purchase books that are already in the Library of Congress, they buy from the latter for a few cents apiece catalogue cards already made out for the same books. This is such a saving to libraries throughout the country that 6,500 of them bought 17,000,000 such cards in 1941. But the greatest progress is in the field of photo-duplication. The resident of Texas or Oregon does not need to visit Washington to see the maps, manuscripts, documents, and rare books which he needs. Through photo graphic process and at modest cost he can as semble the same material in his own library, in large or small amount. In fact, the Li brary of Congress will fill his order at the cost of a few cents for a single page out of a book, either of text or of illustration. From the Library of Congress visitors nat urally go to the vast and massive National Archives. This is not a collection of books but a permanent repository into which rec ords of the many departments of the Govern ment itself are gradually being gathered. Here, for example, are the original laws, trea ties, dispatches, and correspondence between the State Department and its foreign repre sentatives; the pension claims, and War De partment records (page 346). A "Laundry" for Precious Documents Heretofore, Government archives have been widely scattered and poorly kept. When admitted to the National Archives they must first be cleaned, fumigated, unfolded, and then put through the only humidifying, drying, and flattening machine in the world, a sort of glori fied laundry mangle for documents. Although this machine can handle from 10,000 to 25,000 papers a day, it has several centuries of work ahead, so numerous are the Government's records.