Monday, December 13, 2010

The Library of Congress

This weekend Tyler and I took a trip to Washington D.C. to visit our friend Becky and explore the city. I've made my love for libraries very clear, so when Tyler suggested we visit The Library of Congress, which boasts the largest collection of books in the world, I was really excited about it.

The library is exquisite, certainly one of the most elaborate libraries I have ever seen and, though we missed the formal tour, we wandered around looking at the beautiful architecture, Thomas Jefferson's impressive collection enclosed in glass, and the gift shop.

I was a little disappointed to learn that I could not enter the reading room or look at any books without going through a formal process to do so. Since you can't take any books out of the library (that is their policy for cardholders) I don't see any reason why you can't go exploring through their books at will. Lord knows that the security checkpoints at every possible exit would prosecute me with a beating if I dared take something away. So, why not let me wander?

I know there are practical reasons for this. I mean, the people in the main reading hall don't want tourists like me roaming around while they research. However, I tend to like the idea that I can walk into a library, as a cardholder or not, and, within reason, do whatever I like. At The Library of Congress, which is the mecca of libraries, a symbol of the institution of libraries, if you will, you are not allowed to touch a thing. You must look through glass at people reading, which is very stodgy and stuffy and made it seem like getting to their collection was a privilege rather than a right. And that is not what libraries mean to me. You walk in. You read. End of story. I have never been to a library in my life that didn't allow me to do just that, so this was surprising.

Despite my disappointment, I had fun at the library and I recommend going there to see how lovely it is. I liked the various quotes they had below the ceiling tiles. The true university of these days is a collection of books.

I liked their Christmas tree, which upon closer inspection was a tree of books.

I liked their gift shop which had $2 books and Jane Austen action figures (with writing desk and quill pen!)

And I learned that, one of my literary heroes, Charlotte Bronte apparently looked like a transvestite. I mean, seriously? What an unflattering portrait...


  1. Amazing post, Melissa! I'm so happy that you shared your trip to The Library of Congress. It was like I was almost there with you. (I LOVE libraries, too.)

  2. Melissa~I did the tour of the Library of Congress was in love with the building too! It doesn't sound like a too terrible process to get a researchers badge so you can go in and read books in the library. All you have to do is say that you are going there to do research. I think the pass is good for a year. I wish we had been there long enough for me to get a researchers pass too...

    I bought a great Christmas ornament in the gift store. The back of it had a piece of copper from the old roof on it. (way cool)

    I'm glad you had a good time. :)

  3. I live so close, but I've actually never been inside. The LOC has two open houses for their reading room each year - one is in the fall, so I'm guessing the other is in the spring. It's the only time to go in without the whole big process.

  4. They don't let you walk inside or touch anything. Weird. I guess they have their reasons.

    I totally have that Jane Austen action figure - she's awesome :)

  5. Thank you for your thoughts on the Library of Congress. I would feel the same, if I was denied the right to browse in a library. However, I am so glad the the tree and the gift shop and the beautiful building were, in part, compensation.

  6. What imposing architecture! Entirely appropriate, of course, for the largest collection of books in the world.

    The tree of books is amazing - I wonder how they did that. I enlarged the photo but couldn't see how it had been constructed.

    Thanks for sharing.