Inside the tiny library of a Fairfax County public school where half-empty bookshelves line the walls, Tina Pounds and Karen Eagle sorted through five boxes of books donated to them yesterday by the biggest library in the world.
The books, worth almost $3,000, were handpicked by the two school librarians from the surplus stacks of the Library of Congress, a place so vast it could easily hold hundreds of school book collections like that of Glasgow Middle School.
For decades, the Library of Congress has been donating almost half of its daily shipments of books, maps, videos and other items to schools, libraries, nonprofit organizations and government agencies. To be eligible, schools must be sponsored by a member of Congress, and yesterday Rep. Thomas M. Davis III (R) delivered the boxes to the school. Davis, whose district contains more than 70 schools, is one of dozens of politicians who regularly send books to their constituents.
"There's something for everybody in here," Pounds said.
From a Spanish version of Dr. Seuss's "Cat in the Hat" to an illustrated tale about the Amazon rain forest, the books came in all sizes, languages and grade levels. At Glasgow, where more than one-third of students are native Spanish speakers, the dozens of Spanish books will encourage those students to read more, Eagle said. But the administration finds it difficult to stock the library and classrooms with new books when funds are so limited.
The library's 1999-2000 budget of $10,000 was hardly enough, as half of the amount was spent on online subscriptions to news programs and encyclopedias. And with the increasing price of books, few were purchased, Pounds said.
"We want to have a wide variety of books so that they appeal to different students. This is going to let us do that," Pounds said as she thumbed through an illustrated book written in German.
The Library of Congress, with more than 115 million items on approximately 530 miles of bookshelves, receives about 22,000 items a day and retains less than half for its permanent collection. It receives copies of every publication copyrighted in the United States, every government publication and shiploads of foreign books.
"We keep what we can and give away what we can't keep," said Nancy Davenport, director of acquisitions at the Library of Congress.
As the population in the Washington region changes, so do the needs of the area's schools. Thirty years ago, most of the books picked from the surplus pile were textbooks and other educational supplements. Now, schools are choosing books in various languages and about other cultures, and more thought-provoking books that better illustrate modern society.
"You see the changes, and this is just another example of striving to meet the needs of every student," said G.J. Tarazi, Glasgow's principal.
The surplus books are stored in stacks in the library's annex building, and each day during business hours, eligible recipients--including members of Congress, executive agencies and local governments--browse the titles and stack their choices.
Pounds and Eagle, who recently spent four hours combing through the rows and rows of books that stretch from floor to ceiling, have made plans to cart away another hearty stack from the Library of Congress during the winter school break.
"It's like the mecca of all libraries, and we get to go back as many times as we want," Pounds said. "Maybe our library can even be a mini version of the Library of Congress."
CAPTION: Glasgow Middle School librarians Karen Eagle, left, and Tina Pounds display some of the books they received from the Library of Congress.