The Library of Congress, whose collection grew out of Thomas Jefferson’s personal library, is the largest library in the world, with nearly 142 million items on approximately 650 miles of bookshelves. The collections include more than 32 million books, 3 million recordings, 12.5 million photographs, and 5.3 million maps, in an amazing 470 languages.
Though the library stacks are closed to the public, visitors to the domed Thomas Jefferson Building opposite the U.S. Capitol and next to the Supreme Court can take an hour-long tour of the main reading room and adjacent galleries to learn about the building’s art and architectural features. In the reading room, you’ll see eight giant marble columns supporting 10-foot-high allegorical female figures representing different aspects of civilized life and thought: religion, commerce, history, art, philosophy, poetry, law and science. The Bibles Gallery includes two historic artifacts: the Giant Bible of Mainz, which signifies the end of the handwritten book, and the Gutenberg Bible, which marks the beginning of the printed book.
The Jefferson Building also hosts special exhibitions such as the ongoing Exploring the Early Americas, a collection of 3,000 rare maps, documents, paintings, prints and artifacts that examine relations between Native Americans and European settlers.
No reservations or tickets are required for the Jefferson Building tours; check at the orientation desk for information. Tours are conducted Monday through Saturday at 10:30 a.m., 11:30 a.m., 1:30 p.m., 2:30 p.m., and 3:30 p.m. (Note: there is no 3:30 p.m. tour on Saturdays).
The Library of Congress also includes the nearby Madison and John Adams Buildings, where reading rooms and administrative offices serve the needs of staff.
There are no cafes or cafeterias in the Jefferson Building. The Madison Building’s cafeteria is open to the public Monday – Friday, 8:30 a.m. – 10:30 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. – 3 p.m. If institutional dining isn’t your thing, walk a few blocks east down Pennsylvania Avenue. You’ll find a number of pubs, wine bars and coffee shops frequented by Capitol Hill staff.
For more, visit www.loc.gov.
Library of Congress
Hours: The Thomas Jefferson Building is open Monday through Saturday from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. All Library of Congress buildings are closed to the public on Sunday, Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day and New Year’s Day.
Parking: There is limited two-hour zone parking on nearby streets.
Metrorail: Orange and Blue Line stops for Capitol South.