Library of Congress or Bust!

As unduly elected president of Queens College’s Library and Information Studies Student Association, I got the dubious honor of planning a class trip to the Library of Congress. In principle it’s simple: Money has been put aside a year ago for a bus, so tell LoC that you’re coming, get a bus to take you there, and go. Sadly, little of that happened.Loc doesn’t want to just give tours randomly—this is a post 9/11 world—and needed to know how many people where going to be there. I didn’t want to give a definitive answer knowing people would drop out due to laziness (it’s amazing how people will complain about cost, but give something for free and they assign it no value) and I wasn’t sure what date the trip would be. I didn’t know the date because I was having a hellish time finding a bus company to take us down. I was having a hellish time because the price of gas has skyrocketed in the last year and we didn’t have enough money. We didn’t have enough because Queens College was claiming we didn’t (even though we did) and wouldn’t write the check. Obviously, I finally got everything worked out, although by the time it took place I was so paranoid about something else going wrong (people tended not to return my calls or emails, so I never knew if everything was fine or a new problem had developed) that I was getting nominal sleep for over a week. Props to Mayflower Tours bus company, as they were the cheapest bid and yet had a great driver, Serge, and a very clean, new bus (Ok, the washroom wasn’t super, but still).

When we arrived I learned that the capital police haven’t improved with the war on terror, they only became more menacing. My attempt to talk with a members of my group lead to a LoC security guard shouting the mantra of “Step back in line, sir” repeatedly until I gave up, got to the end of the line, went through security and proceeded to have everyone who had been in front of me and that I was speaking to turn around and leave in order to go to a different building. There is a reason an overnight package takes a full week to get inside LoC. If I wanted to send anthrax into the building, why can’t I just dump it on a pizza? Sure it will go through an x-ray machine, but avoid the costly mail delay. It’s this type of thinking that had lighters band from airplanes due to the shoe bomber only to be re-allowed due to the tobacco lobby complaining and has toenail clippers band but duty free is still selling bottles of liquor sold in very heavy and, once broken, very sharp bottles right on the planes. We were taken on a kind of behind the scenes tour of the LoC by the delightful Ms. Morris who shows us the route a book takes from being acquired by the library until it’s shelved (a process that cost about $80 an item). You kind of have to be a librarian to both understand and care so I’ll not give the details. After that point I abandoned my peers to a self-guided tour of the main, Jefferson, building as I had been invited to view the comic book special collection. To date I’m not exactly sure how this came about. LoC staffers knew I was in charge of the group and interested in comics (alternative ones specifically) and had been to the AR site, but why? Was a background check done on me? That makes sense, but makes me wonder what else they discovered. Mr. Sweeney took me to the closed collection that one normally needed to have specially, advanced permission to enter (no one under 18 need apply) and thrilled me with samples of its 120,000 items/over 10,000 title collection of American comics from before the US even existed through today’s mainstream and alternative works. I actually tried to reach Cej on the phone just to taunt him—yes, I’m a bad man. While browsing, Mr. Sweeney and I discussed the future development of the collection (what to do about online comics, are trades a good alternative to filling in gaps when they lose some scholarly value by not including ads and letter pages, etc). All good things must end and it was time to grab a bite to eat before returning to the bus that we would spend more time on than actually being in DC. Thanks to everyone at the LoC and QCLISSA who helped make this possible!