This post is from Brad Krautwurst, who is interning with the Richmond Public Library in Virginia.
Last month, the Library of Congress released its Books that Shaped America, a list of the 88 most influential books written by and for Americans. It includes everything from The Common Sense Book of Baby and Child Care by Benjamin Spock (1946) to The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin (1963) to Beloved by Toni Morrison (1987). It coincides with an exhibition showing off the originals of these books at the Library of Congress -- which I saw over the weekend, but unfortunately have no pictures, due to the Library's rules prohibiting photography of the exhibit.
The last few weeks, during my time staffing the computer lab, I have been working on a display, in cooperation with a coworker of mine named Ellen, showing off these books, as well as pointing patrons toward a survey duplicating the survey the Library of Congress published. We hope, at the end of the D.C. exhibition's run, to have RPL's results to compare them with the Library of Congress'. I have been slowly but surely categorizing the books into something more compelling than "fiction" and "nonfiction" for the purposes of the display, formatting the Library of Congress' book descriptions, and preparing a version of the list that notes the few instances where our library system just doesn't carry the book. I'm proud to say that we have most of the list, excepting things like A Survey of the Roads of the United States of America by Christopher Colles (1789) and A Curious Hieroglyphick Bible (1788).
I've divided the books into seven different categories: American mythos; American poetry and plays; movers and shakers; prominent American literature; science and science fiction; children's and young adult books; and the rest.
American mythos contains famous figures in American history, such as Frederick Douglass and Thomas Paine, who have almost become mythological in their importance to American history. American poetry and plays explains itself and contains selections from Tennessee Williams, Emily Dickinson, and Langston Hughes, among others. Movers and shakers is a particularly interesting category for me, as it includes books that have been so influential on America so as to change the very course of public opinion: books such as Randy Shilts' And the Band Played On (1987) or How the Other Half Lives by Jacob Riis (1890). American literature contains a vast array of works, such as Margaret Mitchell's 1936 epic Gone with the Wind and Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter. Science and science fiction houses both Carl Sagan's Cosmos and James B. Watson's The Double Helix. Children's and young adult contains Margaret Wise Brown's classic 1947 picture book Goodnight Moon and Jack London's The Call of the Wild. Finally, "the rest" includes books that simply didn't fit anywhere else, such as The Education of Henry Adams and Joy of Cooking.
If I have time over the last few weeks of my internship, I plan to put together a list of further reading, books that comprehensively look at ideas explored in these books. For now, though, the display looks great, I'm proud of it, and I hope patrons participate in the survey! If you'd like, you can take the survey the Library of Congress offered here.