Author’s Note: I’ve made a list of 100+ events, places and experiences that happily unite people. I’m taking a tour to see and experience as many of them as possible, and also meet up with Society members and friends. Of course, I’ll be sharing these #HappinessUnites moments with you. Or find out more of the why’s of the #HappinessUnites Tour in my article: 3 Reasons I’m Hittin’ the Road. Or find where my #HappinessUnites Tour has taken me so far – and what I’ve had time to write about. If you want to meet up with me, check out my #HappinessUnites Tour schedule.
#HappinessUnites Tour – Stop 15: Library of Congress
Visiting the Library of Congress was one of my bucket list stops. Why? It’s the largest library in the world, and for those of us who love the written word, that’s a lot of happiness to unite around.
As a kid, I loved book mobile days at school when the city library visited us kiddos in class. In college, whenever I had to go to the library to do research for my papers I’d get lost in the books. When I’m surrounded by books, time seems to stand still.
While planning my tour, I knew that I had to see the Library of Congress and be absorbed by its essence.
Let’s start with a few facts about the 164 million items on approximately 838 miles of bookshelves that make up the Library of Congress:
- 38 million books and other print materials
- 6 million recordings
- 14 million photographs
- 5 million maps
- 1 million pieces of sheet music
- 70 million manuscripts
- 470 languages are represented
The library was founded in 1800, and was originally housed in the Capital. In 1897, it moved to its own grand magnificent building across the street from the capital. Walking up the marble step, my heart started beating faster—it was like I could feel the knowledge in the air.
After being screened by security, I signed up for the tour. My tour guide, Kate, was fabulous. She’s a retired federal prosecutor who’d even lived in Dallas during her career before retiring in Virginia. However, her passion for the library and its history exuded with every word she said during the tour.
Our first stop was at the recreation of Jefferson’s Monticello Library, which consisted of 6,487 books that he sold to Congress after the original 3,000 books were destroyed in a fire set by the British in August 1814. His library was called a working man’s library because it was full of non-fiction books. Nearly two-thirds of Jefferson’s books were destroyed in another fire in 1851, but many have been replaced. There are gaps on the shelves noting the missing ones.
The grandeur of the detailed architecture can’t be captured in pictures or absorbed in one trip. The main room is also filled with inspiring words in the artwork like:
KNOWLEDGE IS POWER
THE INQVIRY, KNOWLEDGE,
AND BELIEF OF THE TRVTH
IS THE SOVEREIGN GOOD
OF HVMAN NATVRE.
WISDOM IS THE PRINCIPAL THING
THEREFORE GET WISDOM AND WITH ALL
THE GETTING GET VNDERSTANDING.
I used the original spelling, so I’m sure you noticed the U’s were V’s. No one mentioned why and it didn’t occur to me to ask.
We also walked up to a gallery that overlooked the Main Reading Room – the place you sat when looking at books in the Library of Congress.
We ended our tour looking at one of three perfect copies of the 15th century Gutenberg Bible on vellum. It left me awestruck to stand so close and look at words written so long ago that are still revered today.
My next stop was to get my Library of Congress Reader’s Card so I could read a book that I’d placed on hold. The book was about my Great-Great-Great maternal Grandfather, Life and Adventures of L.D. Lafferty: The Great Southwest, by A.B. Abney (1875).
The original book has been moved from the collection but there was a revised one by Bill Dwayne Blevins written in 2001 that was available. It was short, so I got to skim most of it. It felt surreal sitting at the desk, in the Main Reading Room, surround by the written history of the world.
After I finished my book, I walked through the library. Actually, I got lost and stumbled upon George Gershwin’s piano in an exhibit dedicated to his musical contributions. Yes, I did want to sneak past the red ropes to play it. However, I’m not a fan of getting kicked out of a place I’d like to return to, so I contained my enthusiasm.
After asking for directions, I found the bookstore and saw some T-shirts I loved. I was a little surprised at how few books they sold.
Ultimately, it was back to my hotel to ponder the history I’d experienced, and plot my next trip back to visit the Library of Congress. I can’t wait to use my official reader card again.