The Library of Congress, nestled in the heart of Washington, D.C., is the largest library in the world and the national library of the United States. Established in 1800, it is one of the country's oldest federal cultural institutions and has served as a symbol of the importance of knowledge and learning for more than two centuries.
The library's vast collections are mostly housed in three buildings: the Thomas Jefferson Building, the John Adams Building, and the James Madison Memorial Building. These buildings are home to millions of books, recordings, photographs, newspapers, maps, and manuscripts, reflecting the rich tapestry of global knowledge and creativity. It's a veritable treasure trove of information, with resources in over 460 languages. In addition, there is also an audiovisual conservation center in rural Virginia.
The Library of Congress is much more than just a collection of books and documents. It's a vibrant cultural hub that hosts a range of events, from concerts and exhibitions to lectures and family activities. It's also an essential resource for scholars from around the world, providing access to a vast array of research materials, including rare manuscripts and digital databases. Moreover, it plays a critical role in supporting the U.S. Congress with research and information services.
Why visit the Library of Congress?
Historical and cultural experience. Visiting the Library of Congress is like taking a journey through American history and culture. It houses pivotal documents such as the Gettysburg Address by Abraham Lincoln. It's also the home of the U.S. Copyright Office, preserving the creative works of countless authors, filmmakers, musicians, and artists.
Architectural beauty. The library, especially the Thomas Jefferson Building, built in the 19th century, is a marvel of architectural design. Its magnificent facade and interior, inspired by the Italian Renaissance, are adorned with murals, mosaics, and sculptures that represent various fields of learning.
Extensive collections. With over 170 million items, the library's collection is mind-bogglingly vast. It ranges from ancient maps to comic books. Exploring these objects can be a unique and rewarding adventure.
Educational exhibitions. The library's exhibitions are designed to educate and inspire. They showcase the depth and breadth of the collections, offering insights into American history, world cultures, science, and more.
Cultural events. The library regularly hosts a wide array of cultural events. These include concerts featuring music from around the world, film screenings, and lectures by notable figures in various fields. Attending these events can enrich your cultural understanding.
Research possibilities. If you're a scholar or simply have an insatiable curiosity, the Library of Congress is a paradise of research opportunities. Its vast collections cover virtually every field of study.
Free admission. The Library of Congress is free to enter, making it an accessible attraction for visitors of all backgrounds. It allows anyone to immerse themselves in the world of knowledge it offers.
The iconic Reading Room. The Main Reading Room in the Jefferson Building is one of the most stunning sights in the Library of Congress. Its dome, the grandeur of the space, and its sense of intellectual serenity are truly awe-inspiring.
Best places to visit near the Library of Congress
United States Capitol. Located just across the street, the United States Capitol is the seat of the United States Congress and a must-visit landmark.
Supreme Court of the United States. Situated adjacent to the Library of Congress, the court building is open to the public and offers guided tours, allowing visitors to explore its impressive architecture and learn about the nation's highest court.
National Mall. A short walk from the library, the National Mall stretches from the Capitol to the Lincoln Memorial, encompassing iconic monuments and memorials such as the Washington Monument, World War II Memorial, and Vietnam Veterans Memorial.
Smithsonian Museums. The Library of Congress is close to several Smithsonian museums, including the National Air and Space Museum and the National Museum of Natural History. Each museum offers a unique collection of exhibits and artifacts.
United States Botanic Garden. Situated near the Capitol, the U.S. Botanic Garden is a beautiful oasis with a variety of plants and themed gardens. It's a great place to relax and explore the diverse flora.
Eastern Market. Just a 15-minute walk from the library, this historic market features an array of food vendors, local artisans, and antique shops. It's a bustling hub that offers a taste of local culture and a chance to browse unique goods.
National Archives. Located a short distance away, the National Archives houses the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights. You can see these important documents and explore other exhibits detailing America's history.
Ford's Theatre. Not far from the Library of Congress, Ford's Theatre is known for being the site of President Abraham Lincoln's assassination. Today, it operates as a historic theater and museum, showcasing exhibits related to Lincoln and the Civil War.
Washington Navy Yard. Less than a 10-minute drive from the Library of Congress, this historic naval facility is home to the U.S. Navy Museum. You can learn about the Navy's history, see maritime artifacts, and even board historic ships.
What's the best way to see the Library of Congress?
Plan ahead. Check the library's website to determine its hours of operation and any possible schedule changes or closings. Check also for any special exhibits, events, or guided tours happening on the day of your visit.
Visit the Main Reading Room. This room, with its stunning architecture and decorative details, is one of the most impressive parts of the library. Although it is usually reserved for credentialed researchers, you can visit the space during special hours, such as Thursday evenings from 5:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. You can also view it from the overlook on the third floor.
Explore exhibits. The Library of Congress has several permanent and temporary exhibitions that display highlights of its vast and varied collection. Some of these exhibits might include historical documents, rare books, and fascinating artifacts.
Attend a lecture or concert. The library often hosts free public lectures, concerts, and other events. Check the library's calendar to see if there's something happening when you're in town.
Is the Library of Congress worth visiting for tourists with kids?
If you're traveling with children, the Young Readers Center is a must-visit. It's designed to engage young people with literature and the resources of the Library of Congress.
What are the most interesting and unique facts about the Library of Congress?
After the British burned the original Library during the War of 1812, former President Thomas Jefferson sold his personal library of 6,487 books to the Library of Congress in 1815. A few decades later, nearly two-thirds of the volumes Congress had purchased from Jefferson were destroyed by another fire on Christmas Eve of 1851.
Despite its vast collection, the Library of Congress is not a public lending library. You cannot check out books and take them home. However, anyone over 16 years old can read books and manuscripts on-site.
The Library has some extremely rare items in its collections, including one of the three perfect vellum copies of the Gutenberg Bible, the rough draft of the Declaration of Independence, and the 1507 Waldseemüller Map, which is the first map to use the name "America".
The Library has one of the largest comic book collections in the world, with over 140,000 issues dating back to the 1930s.