Interview with Senior Librarian,
Rare Book Collection Reading Room

January 29, 1996:

(The Library of Congress is the largest repository of Americanism in the world.)

“The manner and way in which cards are arranged and documented in the Rare Book Collection Card Catalogue, is not duplicated in the Premarc Computer System.
For example, the arrangement of the valuable Bible Collection in the Rare Book Card Collection, is by year, language and Book of the Bible (Old and New Testament). Many other arrangements in the Rare Book Card Catalogue do not exist in the Premarc Computer System, e.g. 18th century Chap books (i.e. small books distributed widely in the 18th century to children, women and working classes. It was the only way working classes received this information. They were very informative — an 18th century version of general news. In addition to this, there are popular paperback novels, the largest dime novel collection in the world; adventures of the West — a precursor of television.
The Rare Book Card Catalogue has a great collection that is not on the Premarc Computer System, I guarantee! Take Thomas Jefferson’s collection of famous works and writings, for instance. In the Premarc Computer System, you will find a great many of his famous works missing in this computer system.
The Rare Book Collection of the Library of Congress is worth 4 billion dollars, and consists of national treasures that are invaluable and irreplaceable. For instance, the “unclassified collection” is not on the Premarc Computer System. There are 200,000 unclasssified items, including George Washington’s three volume, personally-autographed Bible; and Abraham Lincoln’s 1847 Family Bible.
James Billlington, the Librarian of Congress, is a political appointee installed in office in the Fall of 1987. He has stated that the Rare Book Collection Reading Room is an “underused Reading Room” and wants to do away with it! The two Rare Book card catalogues are thus targeted. I have been asked a number of times by Administration to validate the need to keep the two Rare Book Card Catalogues. James Billington wants to do away with them!
Books prior to 1501 A.D. are not on the Premarc Computer System. There are 5,800 incunabula rare books dating prior to 1501 A.D. in the Rare Book Collection. It is the largest collection in the Western Hemisphere. These include medieval manuscripts and illuminated works. The Lessing Rosenwald Collection, which includes the 1453 A.D. Great Bible of Mainz, is worth 800 million dollars alone.
There are 3,500 items of rare incunabula books in the Otto Volberhg collection, which includes the famed 1455 A.D. Gutenberg Bible, the most valuable Book in the world, being valued at 25 million dollars.* These are irreplaceable. These books haven’t been on the market for 60 years. Books of that caliber are no longer available. Our copy of the Gutenberg Bible in the Rare Book Collection is a perfect copy, printed on sheepskin. There are only 3 in the world.”

* Presently valued, in 2013, between thirty to thirty-five million dollars.

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