On the ground floor of Hornbake Library at the University of Maryland's College Park campus, I stood before the locked glass doors of the Library of American Broadcasting, dripping rainwater from Hurricane Floyd. My mission: to hear the radio broadcast of the Hindenburg disaster and read the script of Orson Welles's Mercury Theatre "War of the Worlds."

Visitors must ring a bell and be admitted by a staff member. Suzanne Adamko, an audiovisual archivist, showed me to a locker in which I placed all of my belongings, save a note pad. No possessions or devices are allowed in the collection area, except for pencil and paper. I borrowed a pencil and, trying not to drip excessively, followed her through rows of metal shelves and wooden bookcases filled with reel-to-reel audio tape, VHS tape, film, books, antique radios and storage boxes of other media.

In short order, I was provided with the tape and script I had requested (and then some: Staffer Michael Henry advised me that he had found a version of the script that was more complete than what I originally identified). Left to my own, I settled in with the headphones and started taking notes. The tapes and script were so engrossing that I almost forgot my real purpose in coming: to report on the library itself, not any specific contents, for a class. I shaped up and jotted down the following info:

The Library of American Broadcasting was founded in 1972 as the Broadcast Pioneers Library. It was housed in the Washington headquarters of the National Association of Broadcasters until 1994, when it became part of the University of Maryland Libraries. The facility is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday. The collection includes audio and video recordings, books, pamphlets, periodicals, personal collections, oral histories, photographs, scripts and files devoted to the history of broadcasting. The library is open to the general public, but patrons are encouraged to call ahead to confirm that the item is available and to give the staff time to prepare it for use.

The institutional mission of the library is evident from the moment you ring the bell: preservation and dissemination of recorded broadcast history. The controlled admission prevents all that history from walking out the door.

For the staff members, who are experts in their own right, this is clearly more a passion than an occupation. Somewhat intimidated, I sheepishly admitted that I had put them to all this trouble under something akin to false pretenses: I really only wanted to see the material for my own enjoyment.

Both staffers smiled, told me they love to hear me say that, and invited me to return any time, no matter how idle my curiosity. Preferably on a sunny day.

The Library of American Broadcasting can be reached at 301-405-9160, or by e-mail: bp50@umail.umd.edu. There is also an excellent Web site with searchable archives: http://www.lib.umd.edu /UMCP/LAB/.

--Montrese Hamilton, Washington

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