The Library of Congress Joins the 21st Century

The day of the call slip is drawing to an end.

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By John Aloysius Farrell, Thomas Jefferson Street blog

There is a great scene in the movie All the President's Men in which intrepid reporters Woodward and Bernstein head to the Library of Congress to see if they can prove that a Watergate conspirator was conducting secret research to slander Ted Kennedy.

Woodstein asks to see the call slips, and the boys are handed a mountain of flimsy paper sheets, each about the size of a playing card, to laboriously page through. They never find their man.

But, hey. It would be easier today. The Library of Congress has joined the 21st century. The day of the call slip is drawing to an end.

Now it is true that the LOC has its collection online, and for some time now we've been able to look a book up and search for its call number from home, or at a computer terminal in the building.

But the next step was still archaic. With a tiny stub of an unsharpened pencil you had to fill out one of those flimsy call slips, bearing down to make sure you made a copy in triplicate. The boxes for the call number and the title were miniscule, and if you ever got 80 percent of the books you requested, your batting average was leading the league.

But this week I searched for a couple of books, and simply clicked on an "order book" icon when I found them. In a few minutes, the library sent me an E-mail confirming my request, and in another little while they notified me that the book had been located and was on its way to my shelf.

For those older nerdy types, the flimsy call slips are still there as an alternative. And more than one LOC employee has warned me that there are still a few bugs in the new system. But, hey, we've waited this long. What's another few weeks?  

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