Materials Missing At Library Of Congress

By James V. Grimaldi and Jacqueline Trescott
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, October 24, 2007

About one-sixth of the books, monographs and bound periodicals at the Library of Congress weren't where they were supposed to be because of flaws in the systems for shelving and retrieving materials, according to a survey to be made public at a congressional hearing today.

Officials at the library say they believe most of the missing materials are misplaced, not stolen or lost.

Investigators for the congressional library have told lawmakers on a House oversight committee that its review of the retrieval system for the general collection concluded that a 17 percent of materials requested could not be found.

"A subsequent review found 4 percent were either on nearby shelves, checked out to the public or marked with the wrong call numbers. But it remains deeply troubling that nearly 13 percent are unaccounted for by library officials," said Howard Gantman, staff director of the joint congressional committee on the library.

The Library of Congress's Office of the Inspector General did the survey earlier this year but did not make it public.

Library staff followed usual procedures and no follow-up audit was necessary, according to the report by Karl W. Schornagel, the library's inspector general, but the chairman and ranking member of the House Administration Committee were so upset by the finding that they have summoned James H. Billington, the librarian of Congress, to answer questions about it at a hearing today.

The 17 percent rate of missing materials "is unacceptable, and a clear indication that we must reassess how we manage this Nation's priceless collection that exceeds 130 million items," said Rep. Vernon J. Ehlers (R-Mich.), the ranking Republican on the committee, in a statement.

Since receiving the assessment in the spring, library officials have accelerated efforts to track down the books. "The number of not-on-shelf books has dropped each year. A quality assurance team in the past several months has reduced that rate to 10 percent," said Deanna Marcum, the associate librarian for library services.

Established in 1800, the Library of Congress is one of the world's largest research facilities. It has 135 million items, including almost 20 million books, 59.5 million items in the manuscript division, and nearly 3 million sound recordings and radio and television broadcasts. It has 615 miles of shelving.

Ehlers and committee Chairman Robert A. Brady (D-Pa.) told Billington they want a thorough accounting of how the library is managed and how the collection is protected.

Since 2002 the library has been conducting an inventory, prompted in part by a series of thefts in the early 1990s. However, the inventory is only 20 percent complete, Marcum said.

In June, the committee requested the "most recent estimate of the number of items in each collection." In his response, Billington said "inventory control is an ongoing process."

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