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:
You can restrict your search by medium. For example, here are links that will let you search images, maps and audio recordings:
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.
Free to Use and Reuse Sets | Library of Congress
This page features items from the Library's digital collections that are free to use and reuse. The Library believes…
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
Chronicling America " Library of Congress
Search America's historic newspaper pages from 1789-1963 or use the U.S. Newspaper Directory to find information about…
The Alan Lomax Collection: Ethnographic Recordings & Documentation
About this Collection | Alan Lomax Collection | Digital Collections | Library of Congress
The Alan Lomax Collection includes ethnographic field documentation, materials from Lomax’s various projects, and…
Bain Collection: Early 1900s News Pictures
About this Collection | Bain Collection | Digital Collections | Library of Congress
The George Grantham Bain Collection represents the photographic files of one of America's earliest news picture…
Gladstone Collection: African American Photographs
Gladstone Collection of African American Photographs - About this Collection - Prints & Photographs…
350 images showing African Americans and related military and social history. 350.
Works Project Administration Posters
Posters: WPA Posters - About this Collection - Prints & Photographs Online Catalog (Library of…
Posters produced by various branches of the WPA (Work Projects Administration) to publicize exhibits, community…
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:
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.