The Library of Congress is a bibliophile’s dream, but most people simply walk through the lobby, see the Great Reading Room from a glassed veranda, and leave. There is a better way.
With a little planning and effort, you can get a library card, read rare and exciting books, and read inside one of the most majestic reading rooms in the country.
Before you go, research and make a list of books that you would like to see. Consider first editions, rare books you cannot find at your local library, and old books that are especially valuable. Then search the catalog for the books. Depending on if you just want to peruse or fully read, you should have 3-7 books selected. Choose books that are stored onsite, because offsite books need to be requested a day in advance.
The Library of Congress has three main buildings on Capitol Hill and an off-site storage facility near Fort Meade. During the week, taking the metro to Capitol South is the easiest; on weekends, parking in the neighborhoods to the south is quite doable.
First, get a library card. Enter the Madison building and on your left will be the ID office. All you need is a driver’s license and within 15 minutes you will be ready.
Cross the street to the Adams building. After going through security, take the Art Deco elevators up to the Science and Business reading room on the fifth floor. Use one of the public computers to request your books. Make sure to select that they be delivered in the Main Reading Room (LJ100).
Return to the elevators and go down to the C-level. A tunnel will lead you to the Jefferson building. All bags need to be checked on the ground floor. It will take 30-60 minutes for your books to arrive.
Finally, go to the first floor and enter the Main Reading Room. Stand in awe of the carvings, statues, paintings, and beauty that surround you. Books arrive at the central desk. Materials cannot be taken out of the room, but there are many desks to read at.
When you need a break, the Capitol is across the street and the Supreme Court is next door. A great strip of restaurants for breakfast, lunch, or dinner are nearby. On the south side of Pennsylvania Avenue between 2nd and 4th Streets SE you can try Firehook, Sweet Green or Pret a Manger for something more European; Good Stuff Eatery or We The Pizza for hipster burgers or pizza; or Hawk ‘n’ Dove or Tune Inn for tavern/diner fare.
(Brigham Wilson just moved from D.C. to Boston for school. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.)