50 years of silent service: inside the CIA library.

Author:Wright, Susan L.
Position:Central Intelligence Agency
 
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In a spirit of new openness, information professionals at the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) are finally able to reveal, for the first time since its creation 50 years ago, unique aspects of the agency's library, as well as some of what it is like to work in a secret organization. The library, located at the Central Intelligence Agency's headquarters in Virginia, builds and maintains the agency's primary collection of open source materials and serves as the main repository for unclassified as well as classified documents.

Disseminating Privileged Information

The most fascinating and unique part of the CIA library is its classified section. The classified section houses confidential documents that only agency personnel with special clearance may view.

"Working in the classified side of the library is interesting and exciting," explained Joyce,(*) the librarian in the classified section. "If there is a crisis in the world, that's when I get bombarded with requests, because there are many people who cannot make accurate decisions without certain information. It is very high priority. You may have to stay late, work weekends, and basically do whatever is necessary to ensure the proper dissemination of certain information. It is imperative that these people get the documents they need in a timely fashion. There are certain instances when lives could be lost if information was not received when it was needed," stressed Joyce.

Only certain agency personnel are permitted to enter the classified section of the library. Most of the documents are shared with other classified libraries, but the librarian must get permission from the originating office before the information is distributed. "This business of clearances and whether or not someone has permission to see a document is difficult on top of normal library practice. You could get a security violation if you give someone a document who did not have the proper clearance," Joyce said.

The classified library also has subject matter requirements so that other agencies will know what type of information the CIA's classified library is interested in receiving. The process is similar to a procurement officer selecting materials for an unclassified library.

There are several million documents in this collection. Due to the overwhelming amount of documents received each day, the incoming materials are mostly scanned and digitized. "This also ensures that documents will not get lost," explained Joyce...

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