Book Adventures

America’s Most Famous Library

Last week I went to Washington, DC with my family. Freshman year, my dad promised me we’d go before I graduate. I graduate high school on Friday. We called it a little close, but it happened.

And being the huge book nerd that I am, I forced my family to go to the Library of Congress. Jalyn with Library of Congress sign

I didn’t realize the Library of Congress is actually three buildings: the Jefferson Building, the Madison Building, and the Adams Building. We visited the Jefferson Building because it was closest to where we ate lunch and I couldn’t convince my siblings to see all three.

Jalyn outside the Library of CongressThe original Library of Congress was established in 1800 by President John Adams, and it had 740 books and 3 maps. They were kept in the Capital Building until the British burned it in 1814. Thomas Jefferson offered his 6,487-volume personal library to replace it. The current library opened in 1897 (later renamed the Jefferson Building when the library expanded) and was the first building in DC constructed with electric lights.

Bookshelves at the Library of Congress
Some of the shelves off the main reading room

What I found was not really what I expected. I expected amazing architecture (like every famous building in DC) and floor-to-ceiling bookshelves. It was actually a museum. Jalyn with the Gutenberg Bible

There were some awesome exhibits, like Thomas Jefferson’s original library (I wanted to take pictures, but they didn’t allow photography in the exhibits). But I expected to see more books.

Apparently it’s called the Library of Congress for a reason. Only members of Congress and their aides can read the books. And even they aren’t allowed to browse the shelves themselves – they decide which book they want and an automated retrieval system brings it to them.

Library of Congress main reading room
View of the main reading room from a glassed-in balcony (the closest they would let us get)

The only room in the building where you can actually touch books is in the far corner of the basement: the young readers center. I took my 11-year-old sister there and discovered they have a YA room.

Jalyn reading in the Library of CongressIt was like seeing my TBR list on shelves. They even had ARCs! Leaving that room without a book or twenty was one of the worst parts of the trip.

Even though it was not exactly what I expected, I thoroughly enjoyed my trip to the Library of Congress. I wish I could have explored the other buildings, too. I definitely recommend it to anyone who loves books – as long as you don’t expect 20-foot bookshelves.

(Apologies for the bad lighting in some of the pics – camera flashes weren’t allowed in the building.)

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