One Writer’s Journey

October 26, 2018

5 Minutes a Day: Explore the Library of Congress

If you aren’t familiar with the Library of Congress, spend some time whenever you have a few minutes and poke around.  There are so many resources available including a wide variety of research materials.

Two of the newest offerings are:

The Theodore Roosevelt Papers.  approximately 276,000 documents, this is the largest collection of Roosevelt documents in the world. The collection includes diary entries, letters and illustrations.

Betty Herndon Maury Maury Papers. Maury kept this two volume diary from June 3, 1861, to February 18, 1863.  It details her experiences during the Civil War and includes information on the part played by women as well as the impact on Confederate soldiers.

Other digital collections include:

Benjamin Franklin Papers. Approximately 8,000 pieces from the 1770s and 1780s. The collection includes both his work in politics and his work in science and although not all of it is online, this is a start.

Alexander Bell Family Papers: The online collection contains about 51,500 images of correspondence, scientific notebooks,  blueprints, and more.

After the Day of Infamy: These man-on-the-street interviews were recorded following the attack on Pearl Harbor.  The collection consists of 12 hours total although I’m not sure how much has been digitized.

Ansel Adam’s Photographs of Japanese-American Internment at Manzanar : I just recently learned about these photos so I was excited to see that they can be found at the Library of Congress.

In addition to the digital collections, you will find the following available online:

Library of Congress Magazine (LCM) which is available online.

Science Research Guides which are themed research guides with lists of resources.

Journeys and Crossings which are webcasts on various topics.

You aren’t going to get through everything that interests you in five minutes, but pop over to the Library of Congress (LOC) when you have tine and you will find a wealth of resources, story ideas, and more.


May 16, 2018

Library of Congress: Benjamin Franklin collection now online

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:38 am
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If you write either historical fiction or nonfiction, you need to become familiar with the Library of Congress.  Their holdings are vast and they are making an effort to make more available online.  Their digital collections can be found here and encompass social history, music and invention.

The newest collection to make its way into the digital universe are the Benjamin Franklin Papers. Click through and you can view approximately 8,000 most of which are from the 1770s and 1780s. The collection includes both his work in politics and his work in science and although not all of it is online, this is a start.

Additional collections include:

Alexander Bell Family Papers: The online collection contains about 51,500 images of correspondence, scientific notebooks,  blueprints, and more.

After the Day of Infamy: These man-on-the-street interviews were recorded following the attack on Pearl Harbor.  The collection consists of 12 hours total although I’m not sure how much has been digitized.

Ansel Adam’s Photographs of Japanese-American Internment at Manzanar : I just recently learned about these photos so I was excited to see that they can be found at the Library of Congress.

Explore the various collections and you will find sheet music, film, and more.  Keep in mind that just because the material is available does not mean there is no copyright.  But often the Library does not own the copyright so if you want to use an image in your work you may have to go through the effort of contacting the copy right holder.

Personally, that isn’t a problem for me because I tend to use the material here as inspiration.  What would it be like to be a professional woman, a Red Cross instructor, interred at Manzanar?  How natural were Curtis’ Native American portraits and how staged?  Why would they have been staged?  If they were, are they still valuable.

The next time you are stuck for something to write about, spend some time in the collections of the Library of Congress.


September 18, 2017

Free to Use and Reuse: Library of Congress Material in the Public Domain

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:27 am
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For those of you who aren’t familiar with the Library of Congress, it is a true treasure hoard.  The Library is the largest world library.  The largest!   It contains millions of books, newspapers, manuscripts, photos, maps, recordings and more. More and more of the Library’s holdings are digitized and placed online every year.  These materials are all free for researchers to read, view and otherwise use.

But many of the Library’s resources are copyrighted.  Most of you know what copyright means but for those who don’t, it means that someone owns the right to this work.  You may be able to use it as research but you cannot commercially reproduce it and use it in your own book, article or other media.  Not without paying a licensing fee.

That said, the library does have a large number of materials that you can use for free in any way that you wish.  You can find many of these materials every day on the Library’s home page.  The top section features an exhibit as well as material that is trending — what are people looking into right now?  The middle section is all about the library.  This is the section that you can use to plan your visit or discover what you need to know about using a research center.

But the bottom part of the page?  The section with the grey background? That’s the section we are interested in – Free to Use and Reuse.  The works featured in this section have no known copyright restrictions.  They may have been under copy right at one time, but that copyright has since expired.

And right now “Free to Use and Reuse” is all about Classic Children’s Books.  Go here and find looks to electronic reproductions of Baum’s The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, Barrie’s Peter and Wendy, as well as retellings of Snow White, the Three Little Pigs and Aesop’s fables.

What can a writer do with these things?  If you are writing a historic story, perhaps these are the books your own characters would have read?  Or you can use them to make collage art for your website.  Or mine them for your very own story ideas.  Whatever you want to do.

You’ll have to excuse me.  Right now, I’m picking through Jack and the Beanstalk and Other Stories published by A.L. Burt.




September 13, 2017

In-search-of-ideas: Mining Everyday Mysteries at the Library of Congress

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:18 am
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I get a wide variety of updates sent to my in-box and that variety includes the Library of Congress.  Not too long ago, I saw that the library had a series called “Everyday Mysteries.”

Take minute to check this out.  Although it is described as “Fun Science Facts from the Library of Congress,” there is a bit of history as well.  Not that it is divided into science and history.  Instead it is divided, more or less, by discipline.

Agriculture includes:

Biology includes:

The list goes on and on and includes Botany, Chemistry, Geography, Home Economics, Physics and more.  Follow the links, read the material and you could be set for ideas for well over a year.

Working my way back from the “Everyday Mysteries,” I quickly found Science Reference Services.  The home page of this division included a link to the new reference guide, “ENTOMOPHAGY: Human Consumption of Insects for Food.”  As with other LOC reference guides, this one includes an overview as well as lists of general resources and specialty resources on the topic.  Not interested in Entomophagy?  You can find a complete list of the guides here.

I also found a link to the science division blog, Inside Adams.  How is it that I’ve been reading the general blog for years as well as the Folklife blog but knew nothing about the science blog?  Sometimes I embarrass myself.

Any time you are in need of a science based idea to spur your writing forward, take some time to explore the Library of Congress.  In addition to digitizing historic materials, they are also constantly adding new offerings to help students, teachers, and writers find interesting material.

For more on the Library of Congress, check out this post on their teacher’s guides and other materials organized and made easily available for teachers.


April 20, 2017

The Library of Congress: Research and Idea Generation

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:50 am
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I’ve just become aware of two amazing resources at the Library of Congress.  Or at least I’ve become newly acquainted. The first is a series of primary source sets and the second a especially helpful publication for idea generation, or at least that’s how it works for me.

As many of you probably know, finding primary sources online can be tricky.  It isn’t that nothing is available.  There is actually quite a bit out there.  But finding it when you need it can be another matter altogether.  But authors aren’t the only ones looking for primary sources.  Teachers realize how primarcy sources can entrance young readers.  To help teachers access sources available at the Library, the staff has put together primary source sets ranging from topics as diverse as “found poetry” to “children’s lives at the turn of the twentieth century.”

The first is not a grouping of found poems but resouces that students might use increating their own.  The set includes a teacher’s guide as well as a variety of documents such as copies of print documents and photographs.  The latter set includes historic photos of children at play, a children’s parade and even a children’s book from the time.

The Library of Congress Magazine is published by-monthly with each issue focusing on a theme such as World War I, Presidential Elections, Photography or Food Collections.  The magazine is approximately 32 pages long and a PDF of each issue is available.

Take a look at several issues of this magazine and see if you don’t come away with some new ideas.  I paged through the issue on Food Collections and quickly jotted down three book ideas — a cookbook, a food history/cookbook and a biography.


The Library of Congress is both a national treasure and an amazing resource.  Take the time to look through some of the educational guides and the magazines.  You won’t regret it.


January 6, 2016

Ambassador Gene Luen Yang

The secret codersthe shadow heroOn Monday, the Library of Congress named graphic novel/comic book author Gene Luen Yang as the national ambassador for young people’s literature. The position was created by the library in 2008 and Yang is the first graphic novel author to receive the honor.  Previous ambassadors include Walter Dean Myers, Katherine Patterson, and Jon Scieszka.

As ambassador, Yang will promote Reading Without Walls.  The program, co-sponsored by the Children’s Reading Council and First Second Books, one of Yang’s publishers, seeks to promote reading beyond your comfort zone.  Says Yang, ““A huge part of being a kid is exploring the world,” he said. “Books are a bridge between them and what might be unfamiliar.”

For his own writing, Yang draws on his experiences as a first generation Chinese American.  Even his super-hero books draw on this.  When he wrote about Superman, he gave the Man of Steel immigrant-like anxieties about fitting in.  Yang explains that dual identities are the norm for many children of immigrants. “Many of us use one name at home, another at school,” he said. “We move between two different sets of expectations the way many superheroes do.”

If you haven’t read Yang’s work, I’d encourage you to stop by your library.  I’d already read Boxers and Saints.  As much as I loved finding graphic novels depicting Chinese history, knowing the history made them a difficult read.  It was like watching Dances with Wolves if you know American history.  I’ve requested both Secrete Coders and The Shadow Hero from my library.

I’m thrilled to see this honor given to someone from the world of graphic novels.  While they aren’t my favorite things on the planet, my son adores them.  90% of his recreational reading comes in this format.  I’m glad the Library of Congress takes young people seriously enough to give this honor to someone who creates literature that pulls young readers in.



April 25, 2013

Writing Science

Library of CongressOne of the trickiest parts of writing science is finding your facts.  Where do you go to find the latest and greatest information on a topic?

One good place to start is the Library of Congress.  They have a wide variety of Reference Guides available to download.  One of the most recent is The Science of Taste, compiled in January of this year.  It includes references on the physiology of taste, flavor ingredients, the neurobiology and genetic variations.

Additional science reference guides include information  on various scientists, gardening, obesity and much more.  You can find the entire list at the Science Reference Guide page.

You can also find material in the form of video by checking out the listing of events sponsored by the Library of Congress.  If anything these topics are even more varied than the reference guides.  With just a quick glance, I spotted Mapping Water Use from Space with Martha Anderson, PhD.; Man Food Fire: The Evolution of Barbecue with Steven Raichlen, a winner of the several James Beard Awards; and My Winter in Greenland and Summer in Antarctica with Lora Koenig, PhD. about her study of the ice sheets.

Why not take advantage of the many wonderful resources the Library of Congress has to offer.  You may find yourself adding primary sources to your bibliography.


July 16, 2012

Library of Congress Making Even more information available digitally

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:19 am
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I hope you’re as big of a research geek as I am and that you keep up with the latest additions to the Library of Congress’s digital archives.

If not, check out this post on the LOC blog about the latest digital additions to their collection.  Over 45,000 Great Depression Era photographs within the Farm Security Administration Collection have been digitized.

Click here to view the entire collection.  You can also visit this link to search within the collection.  Adding the word “horse” narrowed it to just under 300 items, many of which referred to the town of Horse Caves.  “Pumpkins” yielded only 5 items.

Even if you end up with a large number of results, thumbnail images to the left of each listing make for quick scanning of the results.

Check out this collection if you are writing something set during the Great Depression.  You may be amazed at what you find.



June 1, 2011

Researching Historic Music

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:08 am
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You’ve set a story in the 1910’s and you know your character would most likely hear rag — but the only ragtime music you know is Scott Joplin.  Not that there is anything wrong with Joplin but what else was out there and what did it actually sound like?

Click on over to the Nation Jukebox to find out.  You can also listen to the Sousa Band, Reed Miller, Enrico Caruso and much, much more.  Created by the Library of Congress, the National Jukebox features 10,000 recordings produced in the US between 1901 and 1925.

Spend some time sampling the offerings and it just might enrich your current project — don’t forget, editor’s love primary research and you’d be listening to actual historic recordings, not modern recordings of historic music or commentary on the originals but the originals themselves.


April 19, 2011

On Cinderella and the Assumptions We Make

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 3:23 am
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I don’t remember when I first read about the probable mistranslation that had resulted in Cinderella’s glass slipper, but I do remember thinking “Well, at least they finally figured that out.”


As if it was a new discovery.

I laughed myself silly when a recent Library of Congress post pointed me to a newspaper article from 1911 on just this topic.  Given the fact that I am well under 100 years old, when I read about the slipper mistranslation, the knowledge was rather “old school” and not new at all.

It makes me wonder, what other ideas or lines of thought do we assume are more modern than they really are?   What information could you include in a piece of historic fiction that might surprise your readers?

No answers.  Just something to noodle over.


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