When you think of a library, you think of an academic place, simple and utilitarian; maybe just a plain square building with minimal decoration and rows of books filled to the ceilings. Throw all of that out the window when visiting the Library of Congress. This massive building is an architectural marvel, and the first building in Washington to be wired for electricity
Of course we all know, the core of the library, the largest book system in the world – unrivaled actually by any other system with an archive of some of the world’s most valuable books like an original print of the Gutenberg Bible (the first ever printed). But, it’s the architecture and symbolism that makes the Library unique and fascinating.
Lining the ceilings and walls are symbols of education, profession and influential writers and leaders. But, to get the full sense for the building’s most important messages, you must take a formal tour.
We squeezed into a large group encircling the low-volume Archie Bunker look-alike who was today’s guide. Since no headphones were provided, and the place was jam packed, it was hard to hear all the facts he was sharing. I was a little afraid to ask questions, for fear of being called a “meat head” or “ding bat” – seriously, the resemblance was uncanny. But, despite the difficulty hearing and the surly tour guide, we hung in there and eventually the crowd thinned and it became easier to follow along with our increasingly personable guide.
While the building is immense, the Library of Congress has an even larger off-site, temperature- and humidity-controlled storage facility to house the library system’s:
- 32 million cataloged books;
- More than 61 million manuscripts;
- The largest rare book collection in North America which includes not only the Gutenberg Bible, but also the rough draft of the Declaration of Independence;
- Over one million US government publications;
- One million issues of world newspapers spanning the past three centuries;
- More than 33,000 bound newspaper volumes;
- 500,000 microfilm reels;
- Over 6,000 comic book titles;
- 5.3 million maps;
- Six million works of sheet music;
- Three million sound recordings;
- More than 14.7 million prints and photographic images including fine and popular art pieces and architectural drawings
But again, that’s just the surface. The message of acceptance, the power of knowledge and the importance of the written word scrawled along its walls and inside each and every page within it, that’s the real meaning.
Here are some great photos of the interior – for more information about the Library, visit their official website here.