The Library of All Libraries

Last month, my family and I visited Washington, D.C. It was my first time there as purely a tourist, and my kids’ first time ever. We had a wonderful time sight-seeing. The World War II and Vietnam memorials are very moving. I was somewhat teary at the Roosevelt and M.L.K. memorials, thinking about what could have been. The International Spy Museum was so much fun, especially for someone who loves books and movies about spies. However, one of my favorite stops was at the Library of Congress. It is, truly, the Library of all libraries, and the Thomas Jefferson Building that houses it is absolutely gorgeous and perfect for the job.


Before stepping into the LOC (through a tunnel from the Capitol Building!), I really had no idea what to expect, and I was awed by its grandeur and scope when I did. According to the brochure,

The Library of Congress is the world’s largest library. With more than 167 million items, the collections, in some 470 languages, include more than 38 million books and other print materials, 3.6 million recordings, 14 million photographs, 5.5 million maps, 8.1 million pieces of sheet music and 70 million manuscripts.


Can you imagine? The sheer breadth of the collection and the cultural history it represents, took my breath away, especially after reading The Library Book by Susan Orlean which includes examples of burning libraries during wars to wipe out a civilization’s past. My 10-year-old son, however, was less than impressed because we couldn’t take the books off the shelves to read them.


There are also rotating curated collections—right now they are “Baseball Americana” and “Shall Not Be Denied: Women Fight For the Vote”. If you can’t visit in person, the digital collections are extensive, with 882 items in the Alexander Hamilton Papers alone. You can also find copyright-free photos and posters and much, much more. If you can visit in person, I highly recommend it.

– Pauli, WFPL Reference Librarian

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