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The IOBA Standard is the journal of the Independent Online Booksellers Association and covers the book world, with a special focus on the online used, out-of-print, and collectible bookselling markets.


Touring the Library of Congress

I haven’t been this disappointed in a long, long time.

Remember the kind of disappointment when you didn’t get the bicycle you wanted for your birthday even though your parents had talked about it and you had every reason to believe that you were getting one (not just hope)? Well, that is what I felt after my tour of the Library of Congress.

My excitement started when my I contacted my state senator’s office to see if my husband and I could get a White House tour during our October visit to D.C. One of his assistants emailed me back and said he would put us on a list and get back with us later but did we want to visit the Library of Congress – he would get us on that list also if we did.

Well, yes, of course we did and we got another email and a telephone call confirming our scheduled tour time – Tuesday at 1:45 p.m. – bring photo ID. So we made our tour plans around the highlight of our visit – left our relatives on the steps of the National Archives Building (they hadn’t planned ahead and made a tour reservation) and caught the 11:30 AM bus toward the Capitol Building – we didn’t want to be late.

We finally found the entrance (it is NOT the one at the very top of the many marble stairs) and went up to the INFO desk with our appointment paper in our hands and were told that the public tour started at 1:30 – if we didn’t want to wait there we could do a self-guided tour. Even after explaining that the tour we were taking wasn’t a ‘public’ tour, that it (we) had made special arrangements, we were told, once again, about the public tour. We could, however, go across the street and have lunch in the LOC cafeteria while we waited the 1 hour and 45 minutes. She wasn’t buying the idea that we, or our tour, were special.

So we went out of the building and found the cafeteria in the other building – going through yet another body and bag security check. Of course the guard at the cafeteria entrance made us wait for the public entrance time of 12:30.

But we were in line with the rest of the scanned public for our library tour, which would last about one hour. At the end of the tour, I asked the question I guess I should have asked my senator initially: Where are the books? This is, after all, a LIBRARY TOUR!

That’s right. The Library of Congress Tour does not include seeing books. Well, o.k. I got to see 2 books: The Guttenberg Bible and The Manse Bible. Awesome, yes, but I could have walked up the steps with my relatives and viewed them just as we did the Declaration of Independence – no appointment, no calls from the senator’s office, just go look at an amazing piece of history. The handouts I read after the tour say that the stacks are closed. I suppose that means something to a librarian–to me it meant that I couldn’t check something out, couldn’t pull something off the shelf and handle it. I didn’t really expect to handle the books but I expected to be able to look at the books on a tour of the library.

According to the brochures, the LOC collection “comprise the world’s most comprehensive record of human creativity and knowledge, …has 500 miles of shelves holding 28 million cataloged books in 460 languages, maps, films, etc. The LOC has over 4,000 employees and uses volunteers to lead the tours that highlight the historical and architectural aspects of the building. Special displays are presented periodically with the Lewis & Clark Exhibit on display in October. The main goal of the LOC is “…to make knowledge and creativity available to the U.S. Congress on a continuing basis…”and the staff fills approximately 500,000 congressional requests for information annually.

With a free library card, you can search the card or computer catalogue and have books retrieved for your study. If you wish to access information on line, go to

My digital camera’s memory stick was filled up so I wasn’t even able to take photos of the beautiful building. I did pick up a brochure and therefore know the answers to the 25 Questions Most Frequently Asked by Visitors, in addition to knowing that the Greek Goddess Minerva watches over the interior of the building. She represents Civilization – protects us from war and according to the docent, she has been very successful – there has never been a war in the LOC.

If you would like to see some rare books while in D.C., try one of the Smithsonian’s museums. They have some on display at the various exhibits in addition to their 20 individual libraries – open by appointment – no congressional interface needed. The Washington National Cathedral’s Bookstore also sells old (rare?) Bibles. I don’t know what the Bureau of Engraving and Printing has available. My senator’s office told me that tour was also unavailable – but, of course, it was too late for us when we found out that it is open to the public.

We never told our relatives that they could have joined us at the LOC – they still think we’re special!

Copyright 2004 Madlyn Blom

 Madlyn Blom Center Aisle Books Madlyn@CenterAisleBooks.Com



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