Despite being sick and sleeping for what felt like an eternity last night, I dragged myself out of bed today to make sure I went to the Library of Congress. I had gone about seven years ago the last time I was in D.C., but I had only gone in the Jefferson building and looked at the reading room from the observation deck. On this occasion, I went through the process of getting a library card so I could venture down to where the books were.
My first impression of the place was that it was incredibly distracting. It took a great deal of focus to stop staring at the ornate sculpture and craftsmanship portrayed through the statues and walls, and actually go look through the books. Once I finally walked to the shelves and climbed to the second level, I found Max had already zeroed in on the sports books and he waved me over. While I found them intriguing, I ended up stumbling upon a few books of compiled letters written by George Washington from the time he was appointed commander of the revolutionary forces to the time the war was over. I pulled it from the shelf and joined Andrew downstairs to read the first 20 pages or so. I found it difficult to believe I was actually able to pick up a compiled book off an ordinary shelf in this place containing such intimate details of our first president. It just struck me as incredibly cool. If knowledge had a smell, it would be the smell of that reading room.
As I made my way through the rest of the shelves to see what else the library had to offer, I started to feel confident if I had a question about anything I could find the answer in a book on these shelves. That impression was supported even further when I realized there were doors on the sides of the rotunda leading to further rows of shelves with even more books. At the very back of one of them, I found the compiled records from every session of congress. They were detailed too. Each book was published in a series of volumes and contained a couple thousand pages of bills and debates. While I use it was kept for the purpose of record, I can’t imagine those volumes get broken open too often.
While I feel proud to say my country has the largest library in the world, I also can’t help but feel sad about the fact it only gets used to a fraction of its potential when it comes to the general public. While the library processes hundreds of thousands of reference requests from congress each year, the process of accessing the library itself through both the obtainment of a card and the distance most citizens have to travel in order to get there makes for relatively few in the grand scheme of things who have access. Regardless, if one does take the time to get to D.C., obtain a library card and maneuver their way through the corridors underneath the building, it is well worth it to search the shelves, pick out a book on nothing in particular, find a desk and just read.