Our Library of Congress: Knowledge Moves into the Digital World

The LOC Reading Room - Picture taken from the entrance.

If you ever visit Washington, DC, save an afternoon or even a day to visit the Library of Congress (LOC). Filled with resources — primary and secondary, hands-on and digital — the Library is a delight for anyone who loves to learn. In my post , The Library of Congress: Go Exploring for Digital Resources, I wrote about a few LOC digital learning opportunities, and library website features many more. The digital learning resources are available no matter where a person lives, however there is much to see at the library itself, and a LOC library visit is fun for adults and children.

Last Monday, on the February holiday that honors Abraham Lincoln and George Washington, the Library of Congress, which was started with the book collection of another president, Thomas Jefferson, opened its main reading room to the public.

I have visited the Library of Congress many times before, but I’ve never been on the floor of the reading room, a place reserved for scholars. On most days the researchers study at wooden desks surrounded by every imaginable reference — printed and digital, and to ensure that these people work in an optimal study environment the Reading Room is closed to the public (though there are dozens of other smaller research areas that the public can visit and use anytime). Thus when the LOC opens the reading room for public visits several days each year, it is a big event.

Highlights of  My Library of Congress Exploration

  • Visiting the reading room.
  • Visiting a huge cave-like room that housed 22,000 card catalog drawers, last updated in 1980.  While the catalog is now digitized, the card catalog drawers and card remain.
  • Seeing the conveyor belt expressly designed to bring the books to scholars in the reading room from closed stacks.
  • Studying the ornate mosaics and sculptures.
  • Watching presentations, some digital and some presented by librarians, that described the many  opportunities for people, no matter where they live, to access LOC information and resources.
  • Discovering the library’s Virtual Reference Shelf.

If you cannot visit the Library of Congress, take this virtual tour.  However, if you do plan a visit to Washington, be sure to put this amazing site on your must-see list.

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