While going about your daily grind, it’s natural to gloss over the sites that attract droves of tourists and field trip groups to Washington.
We’ve all done it to some degree– from scoffing to yourself at lanyard-clad visitors blocking metro turnstiles to simply ignoring the swaths of enamored sightseers roaming the Mall, most Washingtonians are guilty of seeing visitors as a nuisance.
At times this prejudice has kept me from enjoying experiences I deemed “touristy”. Anything with enough mass appeal to attract millions of oohers and aahers must be banal, right?
When it comes to the Library of Congress, not in the slightest.
You Should Get An LOC Reader Card
Unsurprisingly, the LOC is a massive institution with warehouses full of all things print, but would you guess it houses hand-written scores by Coltrane or first-draft screenplays with notes scrawled in the margins? And that’s just one medium. The Library houses a staggering assemblage of recorded sound and video, not to mention their digital collection of scanned materials.
Standing directly behind the Capitol, the Library is arguably the most underappreciated spot in the city. More importantly, you can freely access its resources by registering for a Reader Card– a process that costs nothing but five minutes of your time.
Here are just a handful of reasons you’ll want a Reader Card.
Because It’s Ridiculously Easy
Getting a Reader Card literally takes five minutes and it’s free. A few steps into the Madison Building (the place that looks like a Soviet monolith on your right as you exit Capitol South Station) is all it takes to gain access to the library’s various rooms, resources, and events.
And You’ll Feel Like a Baller
While the Library of Congress attracts hundreds of visitors a day, the vast majority are restricted to the labyrinthine corridors and select galleries. Not you though. Equipped with a Reader ID and a look of confidence, you’ll be free to explore any room not otherwise indicated. I doubt this is LOC policy per se, but it’s worked well for me.
The Reading Rooms Are Everything
Whether you’re looking to kick back with a novel, buckle down on a project, or do research, there’s a reading room for you. Perhaps most iconic, the Main Reading Room’s awe-instilling apse and strict “no talking” policy give the cavernous chamber a sacrosanct quality. Topic-specific reading rooms, such as Recorded Sound or Folklife are ideal for research – complete with computer terminals and reference specialists. Or find one of the high-windowed reading rooms throughout Jefferson.
Indulge Your Indiana Jones Fantasy with Special Collections
These collections aren’t just a bunch of historically significant Bibles, though there are plenty. There are first editions, rare prints, and complete collections from famous figures, but the LOC also holds some unexpected gems. Early 16th-century European prints. Freud’s manuscripts and papers. The endless musings of Ben Franklin. Personal writings and notes from Twain and Kipling. An entire collection of pulp fiction magazines from the 20’s. Peruse the full list of featured works on the LOC site.
Exhibitions and Events Are Happening All the Time
Finally, the Library offers free concerts, lectures, symposiums, special tours, and film screenings throughout the year. Most events are open to the public and don’t require a Reader ID, so you can bring a friend without one. On the way, explain that they clearly need a card for the aforementioned reasons. Topics range from the history of metal music to medieval paper-making, and concerts feature an eclectic range of sounds and styles. Check out the Library’s upcoming events here.
In sum, there are countless reasons to get a Reader Card and no reason not to. The Library’s sheer scale is simultaneously overwhelming and comforting – an inspiring tour de force of human endeavors. But you don’t have to take my word for it – snag a Reader Card and start exploring.
Photography by Rama George