By Glenna Hall, guest contributor to The Atlantic
When Jim (James Fallows, regular columnist on temporary book leave) asked us to send him some biographical information, I mentioned that during my five-year stint at the U.S. Library of Congress, I had worked for several obscure non-library-service outfits, one of which was funded by the CIA. At that time, in the late '60s and early '70s, there were numerous peculiar units stuck around LOC -- in basements, in the stacks, in odd corners. For almost a year, another group I worked for was tucked away beneath the gorgeous ceiling of the Great Hall during a major overhaul of the Reading Room. Why was all this stuff located there? Well, that's where the books were.
My second job at LOC was with a group called the International Organizations Section. When I first arrived, I was struck by how many of the employees spoke English as a second language or were fluent in a number of languages. My immediate supervisor spoke and read Greek; one of my eventual friends was a Czech who also spoke Polish (he taught me how to pronounce "Zbigniew Brzezinski"). There were upward of a dozen desks, arranged in a block. The real feature of the big room, though, was a huge tub file filled with index cards and card dividers.