Monday, June 8, 2015

The Largest Library in the WORLD!

Hello! Uncle J.C. here. The Linns have just enjoyed a week in Washington, D.C., and now they’re on the way home. While they’re traveling, Lydia asked me to write a blog post about one of the best-kept secrets in Washington, D.C. 

I should note off the top that D.C. is full of things to see and do, and many of them remain little known to visitors. We’ve lived here for almost three years, and we’re still coming across things we didn’t know existed! 

But while there are many interesting things off the beaten path, I think the best-kept secret is actually right under nose ON the beaten path: the Library of Congress. The library sits across the street from the Capitol, but I’ve learned many people don’t make it a part of their Washington, D.C., experience. They’re missing out! 

Former President John Adams founded the Library of Congress in 1800, but it was Thomas Jefferson who made it famous. He sold the library almost 6,500 books—his entire personal collection—in 1815 to help restore the library collection after the British destroyed much of it in the War of 1812. Although many of his books were destroyed in an 1851 fire, some of them are still on display today. 

The Library of Congress has four buildings: The Thomas Jefferson Building, the John Adams Building, and the Madison Building are all on Capitol Hill, and the Packard Campus is in Culpepper, Va. The Jefferson Building is the main structure across from the Capitol. 

When you arrive at the Jefferson Building, the first thing you’ll notice is the stunningly beautiful architecture. This starts outside with the green dome and fountains in front. Inside, I would argue the library has some of the most beautiful architecture you’ll find anywhere in the United States. The building is filled with incredible mosaics, murals, ornate hallways, and vaulted ceilings. 

There are many great displays at the library—such as one of the original Gutenberg Bibles—but I think people often forget that it’s still a working library. In fact, it is the world’s largest library. It has more than 160 million items! 

The library’s main purpose is to serve members of Congress, and they’re the only ones who can check out books. However, any member of the public may use the library if you obtain a researchers card and use books on site. All you have to do is go across Independence Avenue to the Madison Building, where it takes less than 10 minutes to fill out the information, get your picture taken, and walk out with a brand new researchers card.

Time permitting, I always recommend friends plan to research something while they’re at the library. This way you can take advantage of the opportunity go onto the floor of the main reading room (that’s the famous round room featured in National Treasure), which is the only way you can see the architecture at the top of the dome. 

Once you’re done in the main reading room, follow the underground tunnel over to the John Adams Building, where they have the rare book reading room. Here you can check out very old books from the largest rare book collection in North America. When I was doing a college project on Abraham Lincoln, I went here and checked out a publication from 1864. It’s an amazing resource. 

Before you go, be sure to check out the short-term displays back at the Jefferson Building. They’re always interesting and available to the public whether you have a researchers card or not. Even if you don’t have time to do everything I’ve written about here, I’m confident you won’t regret taking time to stop by the library. If nothing else, you’ll see architecture you won’t forget and some memorable photos!

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