The reason I needed to use the Library of Congress is because it is one of only two places on the East Coast (the other being the New York Public Library) where I could access a reference book entitled, Uniforms and Equipment of the Imperial Germany Army, 1900-1918. My maternal grandfather was in the German Army in WWI. I have bits and pieces of his uniform (epaulets and buttons) and all of his service medals, but very little knowledge of what he did, what rank he held, what he did to get the medals, etc. As my husband and I were planning a trip to New England for Christmas and were planning extended stops in Washington, DC and New York City along the way, it was the perfect opportunity to gain access to this reference material. We decided that since the LOC had been recently renovated and there were some fantastic exhibits to enjoy, the NYPL lost out.
|Main Hall of the Library of Congress|
|One of many quotes along the walls|
|Denise's brand, new library card|
Back I go, we sign in, flash our new library cards, and enter one of the most impressive libraries I have ever had the privilege of visiting. Although I have seen this room many times from the gallery above it,
|View of Jefferson Reading room from the Gallery|
Before entering the actual reading room there is an ante room lined with books and very knowledgeable, helpful librarians who were able to tell me exactly how I get the book I want and how the whole system works. So we enter and find a desk to work at.
|Jefferson Reading Room Desks|
It was like working in a cathedral. I have to admit, we didn't want to leave. But we did, because there was a fabulous exhibit on the Magna Carta and, of course, the exhibit containing the books which Jefferson sold to the LOC in 1815 for $23,950. By 1814 when the British burned the nation's Capitol and the Library of Congress, Jefferson had acquired the largest personal collection of books in the United States. Jefferson offered to sell his library to Congress as a replacement for the collection destroyed by the British during the War of 1812. A second fire on Christmas Eve of 1851 destroyed nearly two-thirds of the 6,487 volumes Congress had purchased from Jefferson.
|The Jefferson Collection|
The current exhibit at the LOC represents all the books from the original collection. Some of the books are originals, some were replacement copies purchased from or donated by private collectors or found in the LOC collection, and some are represented by place-holders while the search for replacements continue. The original Jefferson books are indicated by a green ribbon placed between the pages like a bookmark. It was truly awesome to be only a glass-thickness away from a book that was handled and read by Thomas Jefferson. If you love history, have an affinity for books, and any level of admiration for Jefferson, this simple and elegant exhibit will blow you away!
We left the library after a productive day, very proud of our new library cards, and feeling very grateful for the monumental, centuries-long efforts to preserve, protect and enrich this valuable resource. And it's there for all of us to use, for free. If you don't live in the greater Capitol area, and can't volunteer (Oh, how I would love to volunteer there!), you can always make a donation to help support this quintessential public library. Even if you don't need to use the library for, well, research - you should consider a visit the next time you are in Washington, DC. You will not be disappointed.
-- Submitted by Denise Doyon