The Library of Congress on a rainy Monday.
by Heidi Obermeyer
This is a post about a rainy morning at the Library of Congress on Columbus Day. On federal holidays DC’s weekend slumber extends, and it’s actually quite peaceful around here. New York may be the city that never sleeps, but DC is the city that sleeps well after a long work week.
The Library of Congress is beautiful. We walked up to it through a rainstorm that was unrelenting as the day went on, and stood in the line snaking out the doors and down the steps with umbrellas open, wondering what the big fuss was that particular day. It turns out that Columbus day is one of two days a year that the row-and-rows-of-cards, big-long-drawers archives at the library are open to the general public for marveling and amusement. How lucky!
Once you get inside the building the architectural complexity and beauty continues. There are lovely frescos, mosaics, and statues everywhere, not to mention a gorgeous set of windows in the ceiling. The main reading room is impressive- never in my life have I felt so much like I was in the library scene in Beauty and the Beast! A large portion of Thomas Jefferson’s personal library was also on display, and when he first collected all of his books on trips to Europe and around the world it was one of the largest collections of books in the United States.
One funny piece of our day was interacting with all of the obviously very overwhelmed librarians. They had no idea what to do with the masses of people suddenly disturbing what I imagine is normally a very tranquil and quiet workspace! I even overheard one older woman scoff at the visitors, saying to another older gentleman that “we have to open up the archives for all these young people who have NEVER EVEN SEEN a card catalog before! Can you believe it?!” I laughed. The tactile book hunting experience was definitely interesting to check out, but what a time consuming task to not only label all the books and cards but also find them once you needed them! What a luxury we have as students or readers these days, typing away on machines that let you make as many mistakes as you want and access the world’s information with the click of a button.
I hope you have a wonderful late fall weekend, maybe one filled with good books and copious amounts of tea. Bon Week-end! xx