Saturday, August 15, 2015

My day at the Library of Congress

My Library of Congress venture
(my library card’s cooler than your library card)

Which may be the first time a coolness competition was suggested between library card holders.

I mentioned on this blog a while ago that I intended to read one of my novels at the Library of Congress using one of the library’s copies.

I planned this specifically for, what I believe is the shortest novel in my quest, The Call of the Wild by Jack London, because I wanted to read the novel in entirety at the Library (I am not a speedy reader).

I set out on this venture today (nearly called it a quest, but one quest is enough). You might notice, I am feeling rather parenthetical today.

Anyway, I set out on this venture this morning, but being a government bureaucrat myself, I anticipated a snag or two, which true to form happened with the first bureaucrat I encountered.

Oops, no – that’s not true. Security at the front entrance was polite, professional, and painless (if you’ll excuse the bit alliteration). But the next bureaucrat tried to confound the entire venture. Once past security, I approached information. I already researched some of this, I knew they had the book, and I knew where to go. I told the information person, I wanted to obtain a copy of The Call of the Wild and read it at the library. I asked where the Jefferson reading room was.

At this point he chuckled derisively (not hyperbole, his expression and laugh virtually said:  "silly man"), but he literally said ”well this isn’t a regular library” (I knew that), “you can’t check out books here to read” (knew that too). He then proceeded to tell me about the tour and the numerous exhibits, etc. and I had to interrupt him to tell him, I had come to the library to use it as – you know – a library, and I wanted to READ – A BOOK.

When I finally got this point across, his countenance physically changed almost as if he were insulted. He then told me, the reading room is for researchers (not true), except in the sense than any U.S. legal resident can conduct “research” of literature for personal pleasure. When I persisted that I had come to read, he finally, told me where to go to get my reader’s card (the cool library card I boasted of), that would give me access to the reading room, and library holdings. 

(Yeah, I know - looks like a mugshot. They get their training from the DMV.)

After that, the rest went fairly smoothly. The remaining bureaucrats (there were 6 more) before The Call of the Wild was actually in my hand, were all helpful. One was exceptionally polite, and went out of his way to help.

To be fair, the information desk man is probably a volunteer, and so I shouldn’t be too critical. And although, he started things off as a bit of a downer, it all turned out well; it was a wonderful, memorable experience.

The Jefferson reading room is a pretty hallowed place. Imagine any library and the compulsion to be quiet and reserved – then multiply that by a 100 or so. It’s also beautiful, with ornate wood furniture, masterpieces of painted and sculpted art, rows and rows of books, and of course the marvelous smell of books. 

The reading room is directly below the Library rotunda you see from the exterior picture. Inside it is painted with an elaborate mural depicting (and titled) Human Understanding by Edwin Blushfield.

Other sections of the library are similarly spectacular, and the exterior is, as you have seen superb. In a city filled with magnificent structures, this is one of the grandest.

I did read The Call of the Wild cover to cover in a bit over two hours. I’ll get to the review in a day or two. For now, I’ll just say it was very good, quite enjoyable. The physical book itself was not remarkable. It was a paperback, 1990 edition by Dover. As I said, it was paperback, but the library had it hardbound in a simple red cover.

After reading, I did wander a bit. In fact, I was – once lost while wandering. (See what I did there?) But I quickly found my way again. I viewed the Guttenberg Bible and the Giant Bible of Mainz.

At the gift shop, I got a Library of Congress coffee mug and a 2016 Alice in Wonderland calendar for my daughter.

All in all, a great experience.

NOVA this week will return next week to its regularly scheduled posting.


  1. Truly jealous of this post!
    AND a coffee mug!!!!
    Okay, you win for coolest library card. But ours at my library are prettier. As in, our library cards are a girl under a tree reading. Unless you a boy. Then your card is a picture of a stack of books.
    But I loved this post! THANK YOU FOR DOING THIS!

    1. Thanks Denise...come for a visit and we'll take you there.

  2. Oh,m my! I want to read a book in there! How incredibly sad that it took so much convincing to get there.

  3. Congratulations on completing your mission... quest... thing :-) I find this to be a completely awesome idea, and I'm so doing it one day. Thanks for all the info on how to be persistent!

    1. Oh good, I'd hate to have slipped such a reference into blogversation only to have it go unrecognized.

  4. The Mother Ship! What a neat idea to read a whole book there. I haven't yet visited the Library of Congress but hope to soon. Thanks for the head's up about the gate-keepers.

    1. Thanks Chris (sorry this is so late...somehow I missed it when you commented and just saw it today.) So...have you made it yet?

  5. What a great adventure! You do have the coolest library card.

    And if it only took you two hours to read the book, I'M IN! I don't know why when I think "classic", I think 1000 plus pages.

    1. Well, ya know...most are. But don't overlook the classic novellas.

  6. All that fuss for a Dover paperback?? Well, it does look like an impressive place.


Comments are always welcome. In fact, they make my day. You needn't sign in to leave a comment. Just enter your comment, then on the "Comment as:" drop down menu, select "anonymous".