The Library of Congress (LOC) is the last place most people think to look when they want fast and easy access to vast public document collections.  This widespread abject ignorance is definitely not bliss, however.  Anyone looking for some of the best digital collections should definitely visit the LOC.

LOC’s digital publication history

A little known fact is that the LOC staff has been very busy converting various materials into digitized versions to provide online public access ever since 1994.  Those fine folks focused the most effort on the rarest items that won’t be found elsewhere for any price.   Some examples include photos, manuscripts, audio files, movies, books, maps and ‘born digital’ data such as websites.  Besides all that, the LOC delivers far more than mere lip service, but practices what it preaches by strict adherence to top digital library practice standards as best policy for online research service providers.  This is far easier to say than do, as compiling digital collections entails numerous minute details that must consider copyright issues, text mark-up, metadata and retrieval protocols, scanning and conversion, preservation, and other related challenges.

Whatever political affiliation, ethno-cultural persuasion or socioeconomic level may apply, one would find it hard to deny that the federal government must have done something right.  After all, how else could the official library have become among the largest body of high-quality noncommercial content on the entire Internet?  By doing so, those among we the people who can’t afford first-class airfare to Washington may still have equal access to our nation’s biggest literary asset.  That even includes antique rarities that are too delicate to handle.  Here is just a tiny sampling of some of the digital collections available at the LOC.

If you’re interested in American history and culture then you will certainly appreciate the digitized memoir that the LOC has created that recaptures the country’s past with historic maps, photos, antique official documents and audio-visual content.  If you want to look at snapshots of that same history you should check out the “Chronicling America” collection that provides access to a huge selection of historic newspapers.

Those that are interested in government public records and laws can access the project that contains all legislation that has been enacted since 2001 as well as Congressional representatives’ profiles and history.

Of course if you are interested in prints and photographs, the LOC has you covered.  There are over a millions pictures that have been digitized and can now be searched for and viewed in an online collection.

In addition to all the above-listed valuable resources, the LOC’s digitized mega databases hold literal treasure troves filled with a wealth of very helpful tools for students, teachers and scholarly researchers.  Moreover, many online searchable database interfaces even integrate live chat capabilities to let users interact with expert librarians in real time.  These are a just a few of the reasons why the LOC is one of the best places to access digital collections in the world.