#SerendipityRun: Finders Guide

On Thursday November 8th, I’m taking over the Library of Congress’ Twitter feed for an experiment in collective serendipity. Any one can join in — our goal is to find as many interesting things as we can from the collection and to connect those items through vectors of chance, whimsy, and personal experience.

Here’s a short guide to finding interesting things amongst the Library’s 180M objects and 500M digital assets:

1. Use the search feature to surface shareable things:

The Library’s main search page at loc.gov is great, and it gives you access to all kinds of materials. However, lots and lots of the things you’ll find are either only available for viewing at the library, or have rights restrictions that make them hard to share. To restrict your search to things that are available online, make sure you click on this search option:

Here’s a link that’ll let you dive right in and search only online assets:

https://www.loc.gov/search/?fa=access-restricted:false

You can restrict your search by medium. For example, here are links that will let you search images, maps and audio recordings:

https://www.loc.gov/photos/?fa=access-restricted:false

https://www.loc.gov/maps/?fa=access-restricted:false

https://www.loc.gov/audio/?fa=access-restricted:false

The maps collection is particularly vast — if you have a place in mind, chances are you can find a map of it. Your childhood home? Ancient Nahua city? Manhattan in 1841? You bet these maps are there.

2. Search the Free to Use & Reuse Sets

If you’re having trouble getting started with a keyword search, you can check out these sets, curated and organized by topic.

3. Dive into a specific collection:

All of the library’s holdings are divided into collections. So a good way to narrow your search area is to dive into a specific collection. You can see all of the collections on loc.gov— here are some of our particular favorites:

Chronicling America: American Historical Newspapers

The Alan Lomax Collection: Ethnographic Recordings & Documentation

Bain Collection: Early 1900s News Pictures

Gladstone Collection: African American Photographs

Works Project Administration Posters

The Prints and Photographs division also lists all of its collections here.

4. Go Digital

Along with all of its physical holdings, the Library also has some 500 million ‘born digital’ items: things that live in electronic form only. These include websites, computer files, memes, web comics, and much much more. Here are some places to start:

16,183 Archived Websites

Web Cultures Web Archive

Webcomics Web Archive

If you’re feeling extra code-y, you can also download huge archives of memes and animated GIFs.

5. Use Strange Tools

I’ve built a couple of unusual tools to help to find things in the collection:

Library of Color is a tool that sorts items in various collections by color words that are contained in their titles. You can switch from collection to collection using the drop down menu at the top left.

Library of Time is a clock that tells time using objects from the collection. Actually, this one isn’t particularly useful to find things, but it’s a lot of fun to watch! (Click on any underlined item to see the object)

6. Ask us for help!

During #SerendipityRun, tweet to @librarycongress or @LC_Labs or @blprnt if you need help finding something. Afterward, you can try the Library’s amazing Ask a Librarian service.

Jer Thorp is an artist, writer & teacher. He is Innovator-in-Residence at the Library of Congress. His book Living in Data will be published in 2020 by MCDxFSG.