The Library of Congress in Washington, D.C.
The Library of Congress is one of the most beautiful buildings in Washington D.C. The nation’s oldest cultural institution and the research arm for senators and representatives, the Library of Congress preserves an unparalleled collection of works from the United States and around the world.
Housing the world’s largest collection of books and items such as maps, photographs, recordings, and films, the Italian Renaissance style of the main building (the Thomas Jefferson Building) reveals marble columns and staircases, beautiful mosaics and statues, and treasures such as a Gutenberg Bible to visitors who explore this Capitol Hill landmark.
The Library’s vast collection requires three buildings: the Thomas Jefferson Building, a stunning structure that opened in 1897; the John Adams Building, which opened in 1938 as an annex to the main building; and the James Madison Memorial Building, which opened in 1981. The Madison building serves as the Library’s headquarters and houses the Law Library of Congress.
Many people may be surprised to learn that about half of the Library’s collection is made up of publications and materials that are not in English. At the forefront of preserving audio and visual content, the Library of Congress is currently working in the relatively new area of digital preservation. The Library also serves as the nation’s Copyright Office.
The Great Hall of the Thomas Jefferson Building is architectural eye candy. From its multicolored marble floors up to its 75-foot stained-glass skylight- and mural-covered ceiling, it seems to have been designed as a modern temple to knowledge and learning. Thomas Jefferson probably would approve.
The Library owes much to Jefferson. When the original library (established in 1800) was burned during the War of 1812, Jefferson proffered his private book collection from Monticello—containing more than twice the books that the Library had held, and including books in foreign languages and tomes on subject such as science, philosophy, and literature.
His collection (and the work of librarians over the past two centuries) ensured that the Library of Congress would be more than a law library.
Sadly, a fire in 1851 destroyed many of Jefferson’s original books. The Library has been working to replace his collection with period copies; a clever display with Plexiglas-encased bookshelves shows how well this ongoing project is succeeding.
Visiting the Library of Congress
Visitors are welcome in the public areas of the Thomas Jefferson and James Madison Memorial Buildings but to enter the Library’s reading rooms, a visitor must have a Reader Identification Card (available from Room LM 140 of the Madison building). Cards are free and are issued upon request to persons 18 years or older who fill out the required form and present accepted photo ID (a valid driver’s license, state-issued identification card, or passport).
Book lovers may want to go to this effort to gain access to the Main Reading Room housed under the central dome of the Jefferson building—bibliophiles may think that they are in Heaven.
The Library presents a number of films, lectures, and concerts (many are free) throughout the year. Some are related to free exhibits such as Bob Hope and American Variety as a way to make the Library of Congress’ vast holdings more accessible to the public.
by Katie Calvert