Grunge rocker Henry Rollins writes of a recent visit to the National Archive and the Library of Congress and it obvious that he really likes what he saw. Along with fellow rocker and lifelong friend Ian MacKaye, Rollins first hits the National Archive where he and MacKaye are treated to a viewing of numerous historic treasures. In the mix are “letters from Thomas Jefferson, the first and last pages of George Washington’s inaugural speech — written in his own hand — and Abraham Lincoln’s letter to Congress authorizing Ulysses Grant to be put in charge of the Union armies.” Another highlight is “a draft of the Bill of Rights…Wow! I can’t tell you how awesome it was to see that.” Rollins also gets a kick out of taking a look at “Frank Zappa’s notes read at the Parents Music Resource Center hearings.”
The next stop is the Library of Congress where they spend a couple of hours touring various departments landing in the Audio department to see “Stooges and MC5 singles, unplayed, looking as new as the day they were pressed. Original Harry Partch, Sun Ra and Fugs LPs, decades old, mint new… and an old record player standing against the wall” once owned by Thomas Edison.
Rollins is in touch with the mission of the LOC when he observes “these people are all about collecting, databasing and preserving.” His account reminds us once again of the essential role that libraries and archives play in preserving our culture and national heritage. Rollins seems to agree that we need such institutions to collect and preserve the artifacts that speak to us of who we are as a people. After all, “someone has to look out for the past, lest it slip away forever.”
Rollins’ enthusiasm also helps highlight the importance of the challenges the library community faces in continuing this vital role as we transition into a world of digital collections.