Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Special Information at LC in WW2

The Division for Special Information was established in the Library of Congress in the summer of 1941 for the purpose of analyzing information and data bearing on national security. This meant obtaining and analyzing documents and publications originating in hostile nations. Neutral nations such as Ireland assisted the Library of Congress in obtaining some of these publications. The Library of Congress worked closely with the Office of Strategic Services, a predecessor to the Central Intelligence Agency, in this endeavor. The Division of Special Information grew to include 208 employees. In 1943 the unit moved from the Library of Congress to the Office of Strategic Services. Librarian of Congress Archibald MacLeish was an active player in the U.S. World War II effort as it related to information and served as Chairman of the Committee on Defense Information. In one of those odd ironies as it relates to freedom and defense, the United States Post Office ruthlessly destroyed tons of books, periodicals, and other documents coming into this country from adversarial nations during World War II. This resulted in libraries in the United States including the Library of Congress losing access to a significant aspect of the information record for that period. This interesting story is discussed at length in the book The Nervous Liberals: Propaganda Anxieties from World War I to the Cold War by Brett Gary (Columbia University Press, 1999). The Library of Congress also has an interesting online exhibit Freedom's Fortress about the Library of Congress during World War II. The envelope above was mailed from Ireland in June of 1942 and includes censor marks from both Ireland (on the reverse) and the U.S.

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