Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Reading on "High Culture, Low Culture..." week 2

This week I am focusing on the reading by Aikin entitled "High Culture, Low Culture..." on the Library of Congress. This article focuses on the early work of the Library of Congress as both the "storehouse of American knowledge", and its role in the "transmission of culture". Aikin discusses the formation of national collections, and in part focuses on the music collecting undertaken by the LC. It is interesting (at least to me) to note the steps taken by the LC to collect, and weed, the vast music collections as those in charge saw fit and proper. Along with this information, we find a seemingly contrasting piece on the collecting of folk culture in the national collections. There seems to be quite a difference between the tactics and thought processes of those involved with the folk collections as compared to those involved with the main music collections at the LC.

Is Aikin's statement, "the library made possible, in theory, the study and perusal of any part of that [American] civilization" correct? Can we really make this type of grand statement about the work of the LC?
To me, this article puts forth the idea about the LC as a definitive agent of culture in the US. Am I correct? Are libraries in general agents of culture?
Blog on!


Brendan said...

Perhaps at the time, the LC had the capacity to house all the "culture" of American society. But I see what you're getting at: it simply is no longer feasible (or even possible, for that matter) to have one gigantic storehouse for everything. Even narrowing it down to music, as was discussed in this article, does this suggest that the LC should have every new and unique piece of music created, as well as all the old folk songs that were collected then? That seems to be just too much. While it is important to have such resources that researchers, historians, or anyone else can access, where is the line drawn? Does the LC have every Carrot Top album every produced?

Incidentally, the notion of folk song "collecting" discussed in this article reminded me of a movie called "Songcatcher." Its a few years old, but is about this exact thing. A university "musicologist" goes to the backwoods of West Virginia and finds English folk tunes there that were thought to be lost for hundreds of years. I recommend it to anyone interested in the music collection process from that era of our history.

Deanna Olson said...

The Library of Congress is an interesting library because of its national status. When Aikin made the statement, “the library made possible, in theory, the study and perusal of any part of that [American] civilization,” I don’t think that he ment that the library would contain in its collection everything there is to know about American civilization. In a different quote Aikin referes to the library as a supliment for all of the other library collections. He states that congressmen “were also accustomed to the argument that other large libraries had less complete collections and that the Library of Congress’s support for research collections was consistent with its goal of supplementing other American libraries’ resource” (48). The Library of Congress was supposed to contain collections that also pointed to other collection institutions. The Library of Congress combined with other collection institutions probably come pretty close to collecting any part of American civilization.

Laura Elizabeth said...

Aiken’s statement, “the library made possible, in theory, the study and perusal of any part of that [American] civilization" is correct and not at all overly grand when the weasley words, “in theory” are set in bold. To an extent, this statement is absolutely true in that the LC made possible parts of American civilization that would otherwise not be accessible to the public. The LC’s collection of Kentucky’s Appalachian folk songs are a prime example. Those folk songs would especially not be as accessible to us now since most of the mountain music no longer exists in their pure, original form. If Gordon had not worked to collect folk music, much of it would have been lost to us now?

Is the LC a definitive agent of US culture? Yes, in a way. I hesitate, due to the necessary selection process that occurs in the Library. Clearly the LC cannot contain every work of art, piece of fiction, etc., but how can they ensure objectivity in determining what stays and what goes? Considering the enormity of the information they were trying to collect, surely they would not be able to effectively reduce the bulk of the library just by burning the pamphets. When the “LC was arguably as much a product of elitism as it was a public institution,” to what extent does personal bias enter into selectivity? And how much of an impact does their selectivity have on our accessibility to aspects of America’s historical culture?

Kelly said...

Reading about the LC American folk music project reminded me of an article I read several years ago about the history of the song "House of the Rising Sun." I thought it was an interesting story, so I dug it up on Google to share with you all:


Deborah said...

The first sentence of the article states that the LC is the 'official copyright registry for books, pamphlets, periodicals, maps, prints, and music published in the U.S.' So, yes, in theory the Library of Congress is the most comprehensive warehouse of American print and recorded culture. And, yes, they should have received every Carrot Top album ever produced (and copyrighted). But this policy leaves out unpublished materials (like zines, etc.).

For more information about the mandatory deposit policy, go here: http://www.copyright.gov/circs/circ07d.html.

Does anyone know of sources that document what LC has discarded over the years? Or an account of the books, music, etc. that didn't make it into the collection? I think that what is missing is sometimes more interesting than what is actually collected. It says a lot about who has authority and power and why they privilege certain texts over others.