Library of Congress apologizes for “egregious lapse” in Twain book

How embarrassing.
How embarrassing.
Image: Reuters
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Fifteen days after Quartz reported that the Library of Congress was embroiled in a plagiarism scandal, the institution issued a rare mea culpa.

The work in question is Mark Twain’s America, a book produced by the Library of Congress’s publishing division. The national library is listed as a co-author in acknowledgement of its staffers’ work researching and editing the text. The book’s main author, Harry Katz, is also a former Library of Congress curator. Yet none of these people know how to draw up a reference page apparently.

Last month, the book was flagged for copyright infringement in a scathing review posted by Kevin Mac Donnell on the Mark Twain Forum. Continued scrutiny of the book revealed at least five sources had been copied without attribution. The text also contains over 100 factual errors about Twain and other major figures in American history.

Referring to themselves as “generalist scholars and writers,” the book’s primary author and editor issued a cagey response alleging that certain sources were “mistakenly omitted” from their bibliography. That claim hardly satisfied critics. Now the Library of Congress has issued its own self-indictment, also addressed to members of the Mark Twain Forum.

“Since the time this was brought to our attention, the Library has been conducting a thorough review of the book, as well as a review of our publishing processes. The Library has determined and deeply regrets that its regular and rigorous review protocols were not followed in the editing of this publication,” the Library of Congress’s communications director, Gayle Osterberg, wrote.

“We are identifying where and how these processes broke down in this instance and implementing measures to ensure an egregious lapse of this nature does not occur again,” she added.

The book’s main author, Harry Katz, did not respond to a request for comment. One of the scholars whose work was plagiarized also declined to go on the record except to confirm that he’s considering legal action.