The Library of Congress - Worth Getting to Know

the Jefferson Building
Last Friday I went back to the Library of Congress for the first time in nearly two years. The last time I went was in 2010, which was the first time I got a reader card and went into the main reading room - the huge rotunda of bookshelves and study desks that tourists can only see from above.

To enter the sacred reading room, you have to get that reader card - which wouldn't be such a big deal, except that it's a bit like getting a passport. As far as I can tell, it seems like the Madison Building is entirely devoted to housing the reader card process, strung out through a long line of different stations and tasks. Luckily, when I went through it I was the only applicant there, so I think it went much more quickly than it could have. In any case, after you get your card, a magnificent institution is open to you, and it's really worth getting to know.

metro station for the LoC
I suppose the Library of Congress is like most other libraries: It offers all sorts of services and opportunities, and most people only ever utilize some of them, and may not even know about many of them. I know I still haven't done a fraction of the things I could at the LoC - but I'm learning! On my first day there (back in 2010) I learned I could order books online from the LoC catalog and have them delivered right to my desk! At first I had thought I could look through the shelves myself, but of course since there must be thousands upon thousands, employees will go get the books for you. Then on my second day (yesterday) I discovered you can reserve your books and save them on your very own shelf in the reading room so there's no need to keep ordering them day after day. (It can take an hour or more to have a book delivered - like I said, thousands of shelves.)

the Madison Building
On the other hand, the Library of Congress isn't like other libraries. First there's the reader card process, as I mentioned, and secondly, you have to go through security to get in, and you have to check all your bags and other receptacles. You can't even bring in a computer case or zip-up folder thingy! But that's ok - I just bring in my laptop on its own, and then I can take notes and order books from the library catalog. Then there's also the fact that you can't take any books out of the building. Apparently, only members of Congress are allowed to do that, so there's one reason to go into politics.

Most importantly, though, the LoC is special because it's the largest library in the world, no question. For all its little quirks and inconveniences, and for being just a little bit out of the way for a college student in D.C., compared to the campus library, the Library of Congress is well worth spending more time in. You get to read, study, or even surf the web (if you want) in a huge and beautiful building, and you get books delivered to your fingertips from the world's largest collection. No person - let alone a college student - should want to miss out on that.

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