I had an opportunity last week to visit a place that authors’ dreams are made of: the Library of Congress in Washington, DC.
I wasn’t going to blog about my visit, but it was so amazing I decided to share my experience and encourage other authors to visit the LOC if they ever get the chance.
The Library of Congress is tucked behind the Capitol Building in the SW section of the city. The main building, the Jefferson Building, is located next door to the Supreme Court. A pretty hallowed neighborhood, no doubt, and well-deserved digs for one of the greatest libraries in the world.
The LOC is made up of three main buildings: the Jefferson Building, the Madison Building, and the Adams Building. Though I didn’t make it to the Adams Building, I spent a combined many hours in the Madison and Jefferson Buildings.
I started my day in the Madison Building, where anyone who wishes to do research at the Library of Congress must go to obtain a Reader Identification Card. I registered online before visiting, then all I had to do when I got to the Madison Building was visit the Reader Registration office, present my identification, get my photo taken for my ID card, and pick up the card. I got lost trying to find the Reader Registration office, so I got the chance to walk the halls of the Madison Building and see what kinds of things go on there: there is a newspaper reading room, the Law Library of Congress reading room, the performing arts reading room, a geography and map room, and hundreds of other offices doing who-knows-what to further enhance readers’ and researchers’ experiences at the Library.
There is a tunnel connecting the Madison Building to the Jefferson Building, and I explored that to get from one building to the other. When I found myself in the Jefferson Building, I headed for the Main Reading Room (after depositing my computer bag and coat at the coat check, since no bags of any kind are allowed in the reading rooms). I didn’t get to work right away once I found the Main Reading Room because there was so much to take in. There are marble columns supporting a magnificent domed ceiling, statues, arched stained glass windows, and a gorgeous skylight. There are scores of wooden desks, arranged in concentric circles, where researchers can work. Each desk is crowned by a brass reading lamp and has an outlet for computers and cell phones.
No photography is allowed in the Main Reading Room, but there is an observation area accessible from the Great Hall where visitors are allows to take photos of the space. I was pleased to see that the Main Reading Room was not at all crowded—since people have to obtain a Reader ID card from the Madison Building to be admitted into the room, only people serious about research generally bother to get the card.
After I worked in the Main Reading Room for a few hours, I moved my research up to the Rare Book Reading Room, which was a hushed space where the oldest materials can be viewed under the watchful eyes of the librarians (who, by the way, are wonderfully knowledgeable and friendly). I had the chance to look at one of the rare books I was researching, but I was afraid to touch it. Instead, I took pictures of the book while the librarian opened it for me (I could have touched it, but I didn’t feel comfortable doing that), then told her I would find the books I needed in the microfilm collection, where many of the rare books can be found so their contents can be preserved.
I decided a tour of the Great Hall would be my reward for a day spent researching, so I meandered to the Great Hall when I was finished with my work in the microfilm room.
The Jefferson Building, and the Great Hall in particular, is an architectural testament to the importance of knowledge and learning in every imaginable field. The Great Hall is a kaleidoscope of color, pattern, and texture. The vaulted ceilings, the mosaics on the floors, the statues, and the friezes all combine to create a sensory experience that highlights the importance of scholarship, history, wisdom, and education and learning. There are tributes to some of the world’s greatest philosophers, scientists, teachers, and writers.
I wish I had more time and space to devote to my visit, but I want to encourage all of you to visit the Library of Congress if you ever have the chance. The website is https://www.loc.gov/ if you want to browse their collections online. In person, it’s easily accessible by the Blue and Orange lines on the Washington Metro, and you are within short walking distance to other DC landmarks. If you ever find yourself in the nation’s capital, you won’t regret a visit to the Library.