A Visit to the Library of Congress on the First Day of the 111th Congress

Yesterday, January 6, 2009, was the swearing in of the newly-elected members of the House and Senate on the Hill, and I was fortunate to be in attendance. [ed-my son works for a U.S. Congressman from Pennsylvania].

It was a marathon day of visiting the Nation's Capitol and the Capitol Building, along with the beautiful old Thomas Jefferson Building (the original home, photo below) of the Library of Congress. I attended a function in room LJ119 (appropriated named the "Librarian's Reception Room") and also saw the Main Reading Room and other portions of the magnificent Library. A few facts:

1. The LOC is the world's largest repository of knowledge and creativity with more than 142 million items in its collection.

2. The Library is spread over three buildings on Capitol Hill. The Thomas Jefferson Building (1897) is the original separate Library of Congress building; it was not named the Jefferson Building until 1980. The John Adams Building was built in 1938 and the James Madison Memorial Building was completed in 1981.

3. The Library is also the home of the U.S. Copyright Office and several other governmental archives.

4. The Library offers print materials in 470 languages.

5. The Library came into existence in 1800 as a small research library to serve the needs of the national legislature. It was housed during its first few years in the U.S. Capitol, which proved unfortunate when in 1814, the British burned down the Capitol resulting in its complete destruction.

6. The Library is directed by the Librarian of Congress, who is appointed by the President and confirmed by the Senate. Since the Library was founded in 1800, there have been 13 Librarians of Congress, including current Librarian James H. Billington who was appointed by President Reagan. Dr. Billington, incidentally, was not trained as a librarian. He is a scholar and author, but I suspect he's learned a few librarian skills on the job. I have a request in to Dr. Billington's office for an interview for LISNews...hopefully he will come through one of these days.

7. There are lots of bibles at the Library. President-elect Barack Obama on Jan. 20, 2009, will take the oath of office on a Bible from the Library of Congress’ collections that is steeped in history — the same Bible upon which Abraham Lincoln swore March 4, 1861, to uphold the Constitution. The Library has a display of two of the earliest extant bibles; the Giant Bible of Mainz (1450's) and the Gutenberg Bible (1455) in separate cases in the East Corridor. Photos are specifically not allowed of these two treasures.

8. The Capitol Visitors Center (CVC) and the Library of Congress are connected by underground tunnels, which was rather nice as the weather in DC yesterday was a rainy-icy miserable mix.

9. The Great Hall at the Library has a ceiling 75 feet above its marble floor, and is decorated with strained glass skylights. The owl, a symbol of wisdom, is seen throughout the decoration in the Jefferson Building.

10. There is much more information available for visitors to America's Library; armchair visitors can access it all at the Library of Congress website. Are you a flickr fan? The LOC has a pilot project to place it's photos on the Flickr website FAQ and Flickr LOC photostream.

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There has only been one Librarian of Congress...

...trained in an ALA-accredited program. L. Quincy Mumford left the Cleveland Public Library's directorship in Ohio to take over LC. He caused quite a stir and ticked a lot of people off. Nobody trained in an ALA-accredited program has been appointed since.
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