Survey Reveals Surprising Number of Missing Items at the Library of Congress

According to a survey carried out by the Library of Congress Inspector General, about one sixth of the library’s “books, monographs and bound periodicals” are misplaced, missing, or otherwise unaccounted for, it was announced Wednesday.* Library officials believe most of the unaccounted for  items are checked out or somewhere in the reshelving process, but, given the limits of the current filing system, it is impossible to say for sure what is merely checked out, and what may actually have been stolen or destroyed. The library has approximately 135 million items including 20 million books, 59.5 million manuscripts, and three million sound recordings. An inventory that began in 2002 is still only 20 percent complete.

Researchers visiting the Library of Congress today still use paper slips to request books, and library staff process about 2,000 such requests per day. Library staff also shelve about 2,000 volumes per day, about half of which are new additions. The IG report recommends that the library "place a high priority" on moving to a system where researchers may request materials electronically, and move towards a more automated system.

*To learn more see this article in the Washington Post.

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  1. Pillarisetti Sudhir

    “A book misplaced is a book lost,” as librarians usually chant, borrowing the mantra probably from the Indian librarian, S. R. Ranganathan. It is sad, of course, that one of the world’s greatest libraries (in one of the wealthiest countries) should, mainly because of budget and staff cuts, be unable to keep track of its books. Surely Congress can spare some change to modernize its (and the people’s) library—RFID chips and electronic book processing systems can’t be all that expensive!

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