Shut Out From the Library of Congress

My study desk in the Adams Building of the Library of Congress

Bruce and I are now a 100-percent furloughed household. He’s officially in a “non-essential” job and thus on unofficial R&R. And here’s what the government shutdown today looks like from my little spot in the universe.

It’s my “study desk” at the Library of Congress, a tiny room down a long, dimly lit corridor. From the single narrow window, there on the fifth floor, I can gaze across the rooftops on Capitol Hill and see the faint blue-grey ribbon of the Potomac River on the horizon. I’ve spent tons of hours there, sometimes working late into the evening.

And now it’s shuttered.

The 50 or so books I have in reserve on a bookshelf are off limits for the time being. No online advance ordering of any more books, either, since the library’s Website has also gone dark. 

A lot of people today seem to think you can do all the research you need to online. But I’ve found the resources of the Library of Congress  indispensable to my project.

It’s amazing how much stuff has turned up that goes beyond what I’ve found on the Web. The many databases of historical newspapers, for example, have helped me construct a pretty comprehensive timeline of Eliza Scidmore’s life that would not have been possible solely from online sources.

Alaska excursion steamer route along the Inside Passage, from Puget Sound to Glacier Bay (From: "Appleton's Guide-Book to Alaska," by Eliza Ruhamah Scidmore, 1893)

Early in my research I ordered a copy of Eliza’s first book on Alaska. The copy delivered to me was a first edition, dating from 1885, the brittle pages so loose and fragile that the book was held together by a cloth string. Sitting there for hours in the dimness of my office reading about her journey in the original text, I felt transported back to that time and place.

Sometimes an unexpected treasure drops in my lap. Like the time I opened Eliza’s later guidebook on Alaska and found something that almost made me shriek with delight: Tucked inside a back flap was a narrow pull-out map (at right) that unfolded to nearly 2 feet long. It showed, in the warm, rich colors of old maps, the exact route of the Alaska excursion steamers along the Inside Passage of the Pacific Northwest in the 1880s.

It was the very route, from Puget Sound to southeastern Alaska, that Eliza Scidmore followed aboard the Idaho in 1883 on what became a historic voyage to Glacier Bay.

 

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Filed under Biography, Cherry Trees, Eliza Scidmore, Historical Travel, Library of Congress, Research

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