It should come as no surprise that I am a lover of the written word; of books. No matter how many times we pack up and move, there are a dozen boxes of books that move with us. Over the years I’ve downsized as much as I can, but I have my collection of true loves and I will never part with them. So, with that thought in mind, if it’s possible to be in love with a library, then I am hopelessly in love with the Library of Congress in Washington, DC.
And, while it is somewhat drab and foreboding on the outer shell, what the visitor finds inside is nothing short of magic. Each and every time I step inside it takes my breath away.
Like so many, I’ve been feeling less than optimistic about the current tone of life here in the United States. This past week, however, we had the opportunity to play tour guide to visiting family who had never before experienced Washington, DC, and I was reminded of how much I love the history of this nation. The US is a mere babe in comparison to the world at large. As a toddler nation we have a long way to grow and a lot to learn.
“Everything you need for better future and success has already been written. And guess what? All you have to do is go to the library.” Henri Frederic Amiel
A return visit to the Library of Congress was just the reminder I needed because it still takes my breath away.
- “I always knew from that moment, from the time I found myself at home in that little segregated library in the South, all the way up until I walked up the steps of the New York City library, I always felt, in any town, if I can get to a library, I’ll be OK. It really helped me as a child, and that never left me.” Maya Angelou
Founded in 1800, it is the oldest federal cultural institution in the nation and it lays claim to being the largest library in the world. It is known as the Library of Congress because it actually does serve as the research library for members of Congress.
- “…with more than 164 million items on approximately 838 miles of bookshelves. The collections include more than 38 million books and other printed materials, 3.6 million recordings, 14 million photographs, 5.5 million maps, 8.1 million pieces of sheet music and 70 million manuscripts.” www.loc.gov
Think about that for a minute, 164 million items on 838 miles of bookshelves. It’s hard to take that in, isn’t it? Whenever we visit the Library of Congress the first thing we do is head upstairs to the overlook of the main reading room. There are no words to describe its grandeur. I can’t tell you how much I’d love to just wander and lose myself among the rows – and miles – of bookshelves gently touching each volume as I go.
What I love most about the library of Congress is yes, the endless number of books and collections, but the history of the library is a book in itself and the architecture is stunning. You just have to see it to believe it. Sitting just above and behind the capital building, one can access either building through an underground tunnel which connects the two. And, with 1.7 million visitors per year, the library is a busy place so depending on what time of year you visit, you may wait in line to see the overlook of the main reading room, but it is well-worth the wait. Trust me on this.
“On January 30, 1815, Congress approved the purchase of Thomas Jefferson’s personal library of 6,487 books for $23,950.” www.loc.gov
Each and every time we play tour guide for visitors experiencing Washington, DC, we always place the Library of Congress at the top of the list not only for the extraordinary beauty, but because, if you stop to think about it the number of stories held within the volumes of books, is phenomenal. And, each and every time we visit the library I am reminded that the story of the US is in fact a work in progress; a book filled with pages of history, lessons learned and lessons to be learned. And, a visit to the library allows me to feel a sense of pride in being able to show visitors this beautiful place of wonder, even in this current tone of life here in the United States.