Closure of Reading Rooms at the
Library of Congress
January 16, 2014: Library of Congress to Close
Science & Business
On January 16, 2014, Associate Librarian of Congress Roberta
I. Shaffer announced the closing of the Library’s Science & Business Reading
Room, as part of a consolidation effort known as “I-900.” According to the
projected timetable, implementation will be completed no later than the end
of March, 2015. The I-900 plan calls for a unified "Center of Knowledge" to
be located in the space of the Library's current "Main Reading Room."
Previously, as part of the I-900 initiative, the Library's Local History & Genealogy
Reading Room was closed on November 25, 2013. Its functions have merged into
those of the Library's Main Reading Room, the present site for research in
humanities and social sciences.
With the closure of the Science & Business Reading Room, the Library of
Congress will no longer have a dedicated research space for the study of science,
technology, or business—neither to current innovation in those fields, nor
to their history. At the same time, the Library of Congress continues to support
some twenty other autonomous subject- and format-specific research centers
including: the Motion Picture & Television Reading Room, the Law Library
of Congress, the African & Middle Eastern Reading Room, and the Children’s
Recognizing the importance of Science to the growth of the nation, and the
explosion of library materials in science-related fields, the Library of Congress
has supported an autonomous Science Reading Room for more than sixty years.
Business references services have been co-located with Science in the Library's
Adams Building since the creation of the Science, Technology and Business Division
We are troubled by the implications of the closure of this reading room, for
the future of the Library of Congress as well as the ongoing support of science
and business research at the national level. If you agree, we urge you to make
your views known to those in a position to affect the outcome of this announcement.
Please also watch this space for additional updates and information.
 Library of Congress
James H. Billington, Librarian of Congress, firstname.lastname@example.org
Roberta I. Shaffer,
Associate Librarian for Library Services, Library of Congress,
The Library of Congress
101 Independence Ave, SE
Washington, DC 20540
 Your Congressional Representatives
 Joint Committee on the Library (House and Senate)
Gregg Harper (R-MS), Chair
In October 2012, Library of Congress Associate Librarian Roberta I. Shaffer
first put forward an initiative to consolidate the operations of multiple Library
of Congress reading rooms, reference collections and reference units. A resulting
single “Center of Knowledge” would be located in the space of the Main Reading
Room in the Library’s Thomas Jefferson Building.
Language describing the merger claims benefits for both researchers and staff.
Researchers would experience “a centralized service point,” described as “the
hub of services that reflect the transdisciplinary nature of research, better
meet researchers’ expectations of conducting their inquiries across all formats
of knowledge, and have resources available to them wherever they are.” As for
staff, “Today the trend is to centralize and build fluid structures for entire
workforces. Information professionals now are taking on the attributes of ‘knowmads’...With
expertise shared on both the horizontal and vertical planes, information specialists,
like nomads, will not be impeded by boundaries.” (Roberta I. Shaffer, “Minding
As of early June 2013, Shaffer’s “I-900 Plan” (short for “Initiative: 900
Days”) is still on track to close reading rooms in three Library buildings:
- Microform & Machine Readable Collections
- Local History & Genealogy
- Newspapers, Government Documents & Current Periodicals
- Science & Business
and to join all of their operations together with those of the Library’s
- Computer Catalog Center
- Humanities & Social Science specialists (current “Main Reading Room”)
- Digital Reference specialists
into a consolidated physical space and knowledge environment—with a correspondingly
smaller footprint for each. The first changes are scheduled for implementation
by the end of 2013.
More than fifty professional reference librarians at the Library of Congress
are directly affected by the proposed consolidation, although the entire Library
and all of the researching American public will be fundamentally affected as
well. The affected members of the Library of Congress Professional Guild, AFSCME
2910, have voiced strong opposition to the I-900 Plan on the grounds that it
will severely undermine reference service with increasingly greater damage
over time: navigating the Library’s collections—unparalleled in scope as well
as size—requires a specialized level of expertise that is easily eroded through
retirements and the culling of reference collections in a “consolidated” environment.
Yet implementation is being rushed forward without full notice to the public,
and with little regard to the fundamental question of whether the consolidation
of reading rooms is even the best way to achieve the stated goals.
Thomas Mann of the Humanities and Social Sciences Division has prepared a
set of papers in response to the I-900 Plan, with input from the Guild Committee
on Reference Service Consolidation. Anne Toohey, Steward Director, of Local
History & Genealogy has prepared a paper about the special nature of the
Local History & Genealogy collections and services, and the potential impact
of consolidation. The papers are offered
here on our Web site for the consideration of those who take an interest in
the ongoing excellence of the Library of Congress: scholars, researchers, teachers
and students, members of Congress, and the international library community.
Mann’s recommendation is that those components of the I-900 Plan calling for
the closure of reading rooms and the consolidation of reference collections
and reference staff should be dropped. A major point is that the proposed changes
run roughshod over the prudent solutions to real problems of reference service
that have been worked out over many decades by those who are directly called
upon to provide such service. The changes ignore both the Library’s own history
and an accurate assessment of what actually constitutes “best practices” for
reference service at the largest library in the world—a library with both unique
collections and unique responsibilities. Major implications of I-900 include
severely undermined service to both LC’s onsite and offsite researchers, and
an inevitable loss of crucial subject expertise.
Anne Toohey's paper suggests that for genealogy researchers, one of the major
implications of the consolidation will be severely diminished service to the
off site researchers.
The high ranking of the Library of Congress's
Local History & Genealogy collection results from the strength of the Library's
special format collections, the expertise of local history and genealogy specialists,
a local history and genealogy
collection in a special reading
room. Careful thought should be given
of breaking apart the nation's premier Local History & Genealogy collection.
Since the Library of Congress is so often looked to by other research libraries
for leadership, radical changes here will inevitably have larger ramifications.
We believe the I-900 Plan should not be implemented. As Mann states:
“The professional reference librarians represented by AFSCME 2910 are not
resistant to change. We are resistant to very bad planning that will impede
our work and substantially diminish the quality of reference service that the
Library is now capable of providing.”
We urge all members of the national and international library community to
consider these papers and their implications carefully, and to make their views
known both to the Librarian of Congress, and to the Associate Librarian for
James H. Billington
Librarian of Congress
Roberta I. Shaffer
Associate Librarian for Library Services
You are invited to also share copies of your comments with the Guild as well,
Why the I-900 Plan to Consolidate Multiple Reading Rooms Should Not be Implemented
In Light of Best Practices for Reference Service at the Library of Congress
A Series of Papers
Prepared for AFSCME 2910
The Library of Congress Professional Guild
Representing 1,350 professional employees
April 16, 2013
No copyright is claimed for these papers. They are open source, and may
be freely reproduced, reprinted, and republished.
Reasons for Maintaining Local History
and Genealogy as a
Special Collection in a Separate Reading Room
September 26, 2013
In collaboration with the Guild Committee on Reference Service Consolidation
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This page was last updated on September 30, 2013.