Go confidently in the direction of your dreams. Live the life you have imagined.

Henry David Thoreau

The Library of Congress

Wednesday May 14, 2014
Greenbelt National Park
Greenbelt, Maryland




Because we are boondocking in a National park in the east, that means woods so I’m not sure how much good our solar would do us if we had it.  Thus, we have to run the generator for a bit in the morning and in the evening.  This dictates when we can come and go. One of the many reasons for getting solar.  We don’t want to turn it on too early as for all but the last 4 years we’ve been tent campers and sure didn’t appreciate it.   So by the time we get to the metro, the crowds heading for work are gone.   A VERY good thing.  This picture makes it look like we had it entirely to ourselves.  That’s not quite true.  Most of the folks were to my right.  But still, no big crowds.

We used our senior fare card to ride to Capitol South for $1.95 one way.  It was a short walk from the Capitol South Metro.   In the map below, you can see the metro station at about 5:00 in relation to the Capitol and the Library of Congress just above 3:00.





You may wonder, as I do, why a book crazy woman like me has never been to the library of Congress living for over 30 years only 2 hours from Washington DC.   The only thing I can say is too busy and lack of interest on the part of others in my crowd.  But now that I am old, I do what I like and today this was what I liked and David chose to come along.

We have not been to Washington in the 4 years we’ve been on the road.  In fact we haven’t been here since 2001 and thus I was taken aback a bit by all the guards and metal barricades and security where there was none for all the years we came here and had Thanksgiving dinner in the Smithsonian Members Dining room.  Which no longer exists by the way.  This metal barricade and gate bar had just been raised to allow someone into the Library of Congress parking lot after an officer checked her trunk and all 4 doors of her car.






Anyway the Library of Congress is an absolutely gorgeous building but it isn’t what I was expecting.  I was thinking I was going to see a whole lot of books but that was the smallest part of what I saw.

Actually this is the original building of three of the Library.  This is the Jefferson Building for reasons that will become apparent later.  There is also the Adams building and the Madison building.

From the front landing of the Jefferson Building is a nice view of the Capitol.





You might think the outside is majestic and you’d be right but just wait until you get to the inside. 


The Library of Congress was established in 1800 by President John Adams.  The initial collection of 740 books and 3 maps was housed in the new Capitol Building until August 1814 when British troops burned the building destroying the small library.

President Thomas Jefferson was retired and living at Monticello in Charlottesville.  He offered his personal library as a replacement.  In January of 1815 Congress appropriated $23, 950 to purchase his collection of 6,487 books.  We were told this was less than half of its value.  Thanks to this acquisition, the library was no longer just a law library for the people but reflected the wide range of interests of its benefactor.  This inspired the comprehensive collecting policies of today’s Library of Congress which receives 2 copies of every book printed in the United States.  They don’t keep them all, but they receive them all.   After two disastrous fires and needing greater space the Congress approved a separate building for its library.

The building opened in 1897 and reflects the Gilded Age.  It is an Italian Renaissance design.  You enter directly into the Great Hall the grand centerpiece of the building.  It is enough to take your breath away.  The ceiling is 75 feet above the marble floors and is decorated with stained-glass skylights surrounded by aluminum leaf decorations (worth more than gold at the time amazingly).   We learn all this on a guided tour which is a must if you want to learn in an hour what it would take you days to learn on your own.  The lights from the windows were a serious challenge even with a flash.




In the center of the marble floor is a large brass inlay of a compass rose signifying all the directions the library can take you.  It is surrounded by the 12 signs of the Zodiac. 









We were given about many many details of all the paintings and sculptures but I’ll just let the splendor of the building speak for itself.




We walk up one of two marble staircases to the second level.
















I can see across to the other side where a Mosiac of Minerva marks the staircase leading to a special gallery where visitors can view the Main Reading Room. 

Unfortunately you must now have a special pass to use any of the 26 specialty reading rooms or the main reading room.  I had always dreamed of coming into the main room of the Library of Congress to sit and read like one can do at the New York Public Library’s main reading room.  But these rooms now are only for researchers using any part of the more than 150 million items including books, print materials, sound recordings, photographs, maps, sheet music, motion pictures and manuscripts held by the Library in its three building.




Minerva is the Roman Goddess protector of civilization and the Goddess of of universal knowledge.  Here she is a glass, gold-leaf and marble mosaic standing ready to defend the Main Reading Room.  It’s really extraordinary.



Unfortunately not only can you not go into the reading room but even the balcony is blocked off by security glass.  We did manage to get some relatively decent pictures of both the floor below and the ceiling above.


These are taken through the glass.  The second shows more clearly the size of the room which contains 236 desks for researchers.  All now equipped for use with a laptop due a renovation.






The domed ceiling soars 160 feet above the floor.







On all the floors we are walking on marble and inlaid mosaics.  It is just amazingly gorgeous.  Some but not all of the designs are similar but in different colors.






It’s almost lunch time but before we leave the Jefferson Building to go across the street to the Madison Building where the cafeteria is located, we stop in on one  of the exhibits.


This is the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington and the museum has a small exhibit of photographs and interactive displays.  For those of us old enough to remember these days, it seems like not so long ago.  We have come a long way.





These photographs of Martin Luther King delivering his “I have a dream” speech and this iconic one of Lincoln looking out on the crowds gathered to demand the rights he gave 100 years ago are very powerful still today.





The churches were much more involved in the people’s movement for complete civil rights than they are today in an equally necessary movement for a clean environment.



Time for a break.  It has become clear that we are going to spend the entire day here rather than splitting the day between the LOC and the Museum of American History.  Even doing so will not allow us to look carefully and closely at all this library has to teach us.

We walk across the street and into the Madison Building and maneuver through the various color coded sections of the building and up to the 6th floor cafeteria where we find that the food here is quite varied, reasonably priced and very good.  I have a huge salad and David has an entire plate of food yet the total for us both is just $14.  We found the food at the NMAI to be excellent and very interesting but pricey.  Worth it no doubt but so is this and at quite a bit less.  We take a table by the window and enjoy ourselves.  






We return for the rest of our afternoon at the Library of Congress and take in two large exhibits and 3 small ones.  We want to get a taste of everything and thus can’t spend as much time in depth at the larger exhibits.  I wish there was an easy way to spend a month here in order to take our time. 


The exhibit on Exploring the Early Americas was one I would like to have spent much more time with so I could read everything about these very sophisticated cultures of the Mesoamericans which includes the modern countries of Mexico, Guatemala, Belize, Western Honduras, and El Salvador.   The Maya, the Aztec and the Incas were far advanced during the European Dark Ages and were destroyed by the Spanish Gold seekers.   This is a rare exhibit of Pre-Contact America.





The richest source of Pre-Columbian historical information comes from the Ancient Maya who developed the most sophisticated writing system in the Americas embellishing their texts with illustrations, recording or carving them on objects of stone, ceramic and wood.  These objects, like books or documents, provide information about ceremonies, wars, court life, alliances, astronomy, calendars and the reigns of kings.

The information tells me that an artist has applied stucco to a conch shell, then decorated it with figures of deities for probable use in a princely Mayan Court. Indigenous tribes blew into conch shells to gather crowds and open ceremonies.  If you’ve ever heard one blown, their sound is mystical and other worldly, providing a touch of the supernatural.



Research suggests that these miniature flasks with ball game themes on them contained tobacco based medicines and liniments.




This is a clay jaguar sculpture.  The Jaguar was a sacred animal to these peoples and the king often took the Jaguar as his symbol.



It is suggested that this figure may represent a snake god based on the twin snakes surrounding the eyes and crossing over the nose and coming face to face below the mouth.  Taking the picture through the class case may require your looking carefully to see what was very clear to me when I saw it.



Included in this exhibition was of course the description of how each of these magnificent cultures was totally destroyed by one of the Spanish conquistadores.  These are very sad stories which I choose not to repeat.  But one thing I learned to my surprise was that the Mayan calendar based on the moon and sun required sophisticated mathematical calculations and was more accurate astronomically than the Julian Calendar.



A small but great exhibit was on the famous political cartoonist Herb Block whose cartoons ran in the Washington Post for more than 55 years.   Some of his cartoons on display today had to do with the time around the March on Washington.




Being from Virginia and well aware of the Byrd Machine and the state in which they closed the schools rather than integrate them, this cartoon made sense to me.  Pro segregation advocates as jailers with instruments of torture.   10 years after the 1954 Brown V Board of Education Supreme Court Ruling, the south is still resisting.   The second cartoon speaks to the 1964 Supreme Court ruling that Virginia could not close its public schools as a local tactic to avoid integration.




This 1964 cartoon also speaks for itself to another issue with which we are still grappling.



There were two other smaller exhibits on the work of George and Ira Gershwin which included an interactive exhibit where you could watch and listen to movies in which their songs were made famous.   There was also the Hope for America Exhibit about Bob Hope and other comedians particularly as political lampooners.   This latter one was a very large exhibit with many interactive opportunities.  I’m omitting these for the sake of an already too long post.


But I don’t want to omit showing you some of the beautiful books created by the very advanced Persian societies in areas of the world currently being destroyed.  Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan.






There is a lot of material here on the stories told in these books and their importance to the culture.  I am just so thankful that these gorgeous books were saved from the ongoing destruction of the wars in these areas.




In 539 BCE, after the invasion and incorporation of Babylon into the Persian Empire, Cyrus the Great, put forth a decree etched on a cylinder in Akkadian cuneiform script and pronouncing that he was the new king of Babylon.  The cylinder’s text is significant because it shows his treatment of the conquered nations.  Some experts feel the cylinder represents the world’s first document declaring human rights by allowing local languages, faiths and traditions to be preserved.  Not something those who conquered the Americas North, Central or South did.






Our last stop was to see the Jefferson Library.  All 6487 books are represented here.  During the fire only 1/3 of Jefferson’s original books escaped.  They are here and have green book mark type tags.  Books that have been reacquired in the exact edition of the original collection have gold tags,  those with no tags were in the library’s collection when this gathering for display was done.  There are black boxes with the titles of those books yet to be found also shelved in the places Jefferson had them in his library.  The display is in the round as he had them at Monticello. 






On our way out, we walked through one of the library’s shops where I found two things that I loved and were I taking on more stuff they would have gone home with me.  But, I have all the stuff I need so I took only pictures.




Full time RVing saved me from this fate to which I was rapidly succumbing.
If you cannot read it, it says “Disgusted with life, she retired to the society of books.”






Sure am glad we weren’t going in that direction on the metro as we travelled home after a very long day.   It’s easy to overdo in the Library of Congress.





BUT there was more fun to come.  After dinner and a rest, we went up to spend nearly 3 hours talking with LuAnn and Terry of the blog Paint Your Landscape.   We know quite a few other bloggers in common but have never met and boy am I glad we did.  Turns out we have biking and hiking and kayaking in common plus Terry and I discovered that we were born 4 days apart in the same town in Ohio.  Talk about a small world.   Thanks to RVillage I was able to find out that they are camp hosting here.  If you think I look relaxed you’d be absolutely right.  These are my people! 



Thank you Terry and LuAnn for putting a restful close to our overdoers day.


  1. Thank you for such a great tour....you always do it up right!

  2. Thanks, Sherry, for the trip to the Library of Congress! I was there once for a brief time YEARS ago to see the Dead Sea Scrolls with my mother. We never did tour the library area itself. Looks like something we should see during one of our visits to area in future. Your photos showed the magnificent beauty. Thanks for sharing so many.

    How great that you met LuAnn and Terry! Wonderful people aren't they:) Most definitely a perfect end to your day.

  3. Sherry, our heads hurt when we spent 4 days in a row while visiting museums last year. But in those four days, we failed to get see all of the Library of Congress, for we instead went where the Declarations were housed. So thank you for this magnificient pictures of what we missed. Steve and you had the impressions of seeing many changes since he worked in DC many years ago.
    Just in case you have not done so or like airplanes or see Discovery shuttle, the Air Musuem near Washington-Dulles Airport is worth a drive. or Check my blog of some museums you have not visited before.
    Terry and Luann, a great couple to meet up with.

  4. WOW...the LOC is amazing!!! Don't believe we will be satisfied just seeing it through you excellent tour. Your post makes me want to return and spend some time in DC...just need to mentally prepare to face the traffic to get there;o)) Thanks for a wonderful tour!!

  5. I plan to go to DC next spring & am really enjoying both your travelog and the getting around details.

  6. So glad you went with you desires and visited a place so dear to your heart. I expected to see you wearing purple for the occasion. If a society is judged by the books it keeps, what will future generations say of our new technology driven collections. Sadly, it seems to me it lacks much of the experience of physical books and collections. While I am not much of a city girl, DC is certainly a profound experience. I always seem to find new experiences whenever I have had the opportunity to visit.

  7. I had no idea the LOC has so much to see! What a great collection. The Persian books are incredible, I'm so glad they were saved. I'm torn between sadness that respectful citizens can't access the Reading Room and gratitude that it is protected from those who would do it harm. Thank you for taking the time and effort to really share this experience. What you see with your eyes and feel with your heart are beautifully expressed with your words.

  8. Your tour of the LOC is great. Our kiddos were small the first time we went to DC then the last two were in their teens the second time. Never did make it to LOC, but now......we can do whatever WE choose.

  9. I'm highly enjoying life, but still like the society of books. Nice hat!

  10. What a fabulous tour and photos, Sherry! You're visiting all of the places that I've wanted to see in Washington, and your experience is making me certain that a trip up the east coast is worth the effort. I'm happy that you haven't "retired to the society of books" but are out there sharing your adventures with us. How wonderful that you met up with LuAnn and Terry -- we're looking forward to the day when we can meet them in person.

  11. I've never had enough time when I've visited DC to see the Library. Thanks for the tour.

  12. I loved the tour of the Library through your eyes.So informative and your pictures showed the beauty of it too.

  13. Sherry, you brought back memories of my many visits to the LOC. The American Library Association held its annual conference there a few times when I was a member, and once they had an open house for the attendees at the Library of Congress and we got to go places that the average visitor is not allowed. Being down in the reading room and looking up at the ceiling, and all around that great room from the floor is something which is etched into my memory forever. It was one of the most enjoyable three hour events I ever had at a ALA conference, that's for sure. And yes, seeing the security after 9/11 is chilling. Snipers on the roof of the Capitol, barricades all over the place, life use to be so simple and easy and free....not any more. --Dave (GoingRvWay.com)

  14. Great tour and great pictures once again. It saddens me to see how restrictive DC has become over the years with all the heightened security measures. A sad but necessary evil. I remember driving right up and parking in front of the Capitol Building in 1977 and walking right in. Can't do that anymore.

    Amazing to look on the very books that Thomas Jefferson held in his hands and read, A wonderful preservation of American history. :c)

  15. I visited the Library of Congress on my first visit to D.C. at the age of 13. I think I ordered a book by Poe from the stacks, and sat and read for a while. I remember that the library was overwhelming even then. My favorite place to visit is undoubtedly the Smithsoniam Museum of American History. If I ever return to the area I will want to see the Museum of the American Indian.

  16. oh my goodness. . .when we get ready to see DC again, I will definitely need some tips. . .

  17. Great post...one would think as many times i have been to Winchester VA..
    that i would have visited our nations capital...i still would love to go...
    but dont think i could do this venture alone....maybe my kids will take me...

  18. All the trips I have made to DC, I have yet to go to the LOC. Looks like it definitely needs several days to explore. Thanks for all the details, and I love the hat!

  19. Now that is a place I have been fortunate enough to have gone to!!! I too was enthralled with the Library of Congress!!! What a beautiful, wonderful place and 'we the people' can go there and see it!!! Such wonderful floors, arches.... I have a problem with books and they come home with me all the time, have gone thru them numerous times..culling.... do I really need to keep that one forever? many times, yes is the answer :)

  20. Great tour! Now I feel really bad, I worked in DC for three years and never got to the library:(

  21. One of my son's business takes him to D.C. quite frequently. He haunts the museums and I believe he's been to the Library of Congress. It's nice that you have a campground close by. I'd like to find a park in Pennsylvania near the turnpike so I could camp on the way up and see my sister, again. Do you (or maybe your readers) have any suggestions? She could come over on a Friday and go back on a Sunday. If I got in a private park I could leave the trailer there and go over with her during the week so maybe I could give her a couple of weekends away. Sorry...didn't mean to get off on a tangent.

    As always, your posts are a joy; always a learning experience, and provide a mental vacation for me. :)

  22. You bet I chose to come along, and I am really glad I did too. I know a good idea when I hear it, but this was a great idea!

  23. I always figured the Library of Congress would be the biggest building of books in the country. What a surprise it's a whole lot more. I can imagine spending weeks touring here.

  24. Thanks for the wonderful tour. I thought the photograph of the statue of Lincoln looking out at the massive crowd was especially moving. You could see all the photographers taking photos with the crowd behind him, but someone was clever enough to get it from that angle. Loved the LOC.

  25. I've always enjoyed our short visits to D.C. and we've discussed the possibility of working nearby one summer to really see as much as we can. There is so much there. Just have to decide if I can deal with that many people for a long period of time :-).

  26. What a great post! I really appreciated all the history and especially the wonderful photos of the magnificent library. Love to see it myself someday.

  27. Great tour, Sherry ~ as always ... I always learn stuff coming over here! gorgeous

  28. robinkwalton@gmail.comMay 19, 2014 at 1:47 PM

    What a wonderful tour and post! We have been there a few times and often spend time in the Smithsonian and Art Museums and the Statue Memorials. We have yet to see the LOC but will now HAVE to make a visit. It is so sad all those books and manuscripts and yet few to see them.Your photo's were outstanding!
    Very nice,,glad you relaxed,all those marble floors are hard on the feet!

  29. I think we will not check off all the sites in DC we want to see even though we will be here for a few months. This is another one on the list so I am pleased that you showcased it for us.

    It was so good to meet the two of you. We only wish we had connected in FL sooner to hike and kayak together. We will just have to keep in touch and find a way to meet again. Safe travels to the two of you.

  30. Amazing building- you wonder how they were able to build something so ornate and so large. Glad you had a good time. Great to talk to you on Saturday!

  31. So much information in a gorgeous museum! Wow. You remembered a lot of facts from your day. Got Books? Love it!

  32. Probably would never have thought to go to the Library of Congress. Very interesting. For all their shortcomings, our lawmakers have done a great job with the museums and monuments in our capital. Of all the places I've been in the world, there's still no place I'd rather be than here. We do have a wonderful country!


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