Some Background History on the Libraries

This post has been inspired by last month's wonderful post from the Smithsonian Archives, Records and Information Management Month: The Librarian, which features a wider discussion of libraries’ information management work. The Smithsonian Libraries was not officially created until the 1960s, but when the Institution was founded by Congress in 1846 it was meant to include a national library; to that end it was named a copyright depository, along with the Library of Congress, for all books published in the U.S. The first Librarian, Charles Coffin Jewett, was appointed in 1848 and immediately perceived a need for standardized and shared cataloging for the nation’s libraries, anticipating functions later undertaken by the Library of Congress. Unfortunately, the Smithsonian’s attempts to fulfill this role became unsustainable—the scientific researches and public exhibitions that were also part of the Institution’s mandate quickly started being crowded out of the original “Castle” building by the flood of books submitted for copyright in every conceivable subject, and the law was changed in the 1860s to assign this more »

When I think of Alexander Graham Bell, I Think of . . . Kites?

Not usually. Like most folks, I associate Bell with the telephone. But apparently the inventor didn't stop there. The son of an elocutionist, he had always been interested in speech and sound, particularly in regard to the deaf. He worked, as a teacher, with many children and young people, either deaf from birth, or, like Helen Keller and his eventual bride, Mabel Gardiner Hubbard, deaf as the result of an illness—in Mabel's case a bout of scarlet fever as a child, in Helen's most likely meningitis or also possibly scarlet fever. This interest in sound led to his experiments with the "harmonic telegraph," which later became the telephone. But Bell was also interested in aeronautics, especially tetrahedral box kites. As one of the founding members of the National Geographic Society, and later its second president, Bell made an address on the subject, which is in the Libraries' National Air and Space Museum Library collection, The tetrahedral principle in kite structure. So today, while I am attempting to get a kite airborne at the 44th more »

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