LOC's overhauled site tells America's story

A recent trip to the Library of Congress on the World Wide Web (www.loc.gov) to check out the new online release of some 8,000 pages of correspondence to and from George Washington turned into a serendipitous adventure that provided sheer delight at every mouse click.

LOC has completely revamped its Web site since our last visit at the end of the 1997 legislative year, with the main address serving as a window into the increasingly rich online world of the nation's pre-eminent library. An interactive button bar, topped by the domes of the Jefferson and Capitol buildings, runs down the left side of the page and offers one-click access to the increasing variety of services offered by LOC. The main page flags the THOMAS legislative site, exhibitions, library services and research tools.

This page highlights the ongoing American Memory exhibition, which provides online access to "documents, photographs, movies and sound recordings that tell America's story.''

Last month, to celebrate Presidents Day, this section featured newly digitized "letterbooks'' from the George Washington Papers collection.

The letterbooks consist of bound copies of Washington's ingoing and outgoing correspondence, and the site offers anyone with Web access the chance to download archival-quality JPEG images of this recently digitized correspondence.

The collection totals 65,000 items— about 176,000 pages— and includes practically every aspect of Washington's adult life, ranging from his experiences as a county surveyor in Virginia to his presidency.

The First Release section of the Washington Papers collection features 41 letterbooks totaling about 8,000 pages, all available online. LOC plans to have the whole letterbook collection online by the time it celebrates its bicentennial in the Year 2000.

Today in History

Another delightful part of the American Memory collection that is worth checking out is the Today in History page, which offers a snapshot of a historical event for that day, which include some real twists that display the breadth and depth of LOC's online efforts.

On Feb. 23, LOC highlighted the date of Gen. Zachary Taylor's defeat of Mexican Gen. Antonio de Santa Ana in the Battle of Buena Vista in 1847. Obscure? Maybe, but LOC showcased this one bit of history with an online reproduction of a Currier and Ives lithograph of Taylor in the battle.

This year also marks the anniversary of the Spanish-American War, which LOC commemorates online with an intriguing display of motion pictures of the war that were as revolutionary then as instant videos of aircraft carriers in the Persian Gulf are today. This section includes on-the-scene footage from Cuba and the Philippines, shot by the Biograph company, as well as re-enactments of battles done by the (Thomas) Edison Co.

The tour of the new LOC Web site also should include a stop in the American Treasures collection. This eclectic collection starts with Washington's commission as commander in chief of the Colonial Army— signed by John Hancock— and then on to Thomas Jefferson's catalog of his library, which was the start of the LOC collections.

The American Treasures section then zips through the centuries, offering up everything from battlefield orders issued by Robert E. Lee in the Civil War to Frank Sinatra's written application to appear on "Major Bowes Amateur Hour'' in 1935 to the manuscript of Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream'' speech.

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