1. The librarians and archivists are extraordinarily helpful. I spend a lot of my time at the library's Prints and Photographs Division, and everyone who works there seems to have an encyclopedic knowledge of their holdings. What’s more, the staff treats every question with respect and interest, while having no end of patience with those of us who have to reacquaint ourselves with mastering the technology and the procedures for requesting material.
2. The breadth of the collections is unsurpassed. Want to watch Thomas Edison’s film of Annie Oakley shooting at targets? See Sitting Bull pose for a picture in swimming goggles? Read the “latest” news from a particular city in 1888? You can do all that and more in the library’s various reading rooms. All you need is a User Card, issued free at the library and good for two years.
3. It’s literally right next door to the Supreme Court and across the street from the Capitol. I don’t consider myself overly patriotic, but I can’t help but get a thrill when I’m a stone’s throw from the iconic buildings of our nation’s capital. Maybe it’s because as a kid, I took the requisite trip to
4. They have a great cafeteria. I’m a sucker for good, reasonably priced food, and the Library of Congress has a large cafeteria with a great view and a huge salad bar. Having spent many a day sequestered in libraries with no place to eat, I always appreciate the chance to take a quick break and get more sustenance than that provided by an energy bar.
5. There’s no substitute for being there. These days, people can access many of the Library of Congress’s catalogs and collections online. But visiting the hallowed halls can lead to all types of discoveries. Last week, while biding my time as someone went to retrieve a book I requested, I opened my laptop found that within the confines of the library, I could access the amazing 19th-Century
6. They have great free stuff. At the desk in the Prints and Photographs Division, there are often free-for-the-taking bookmarks, postcards, and catalogs featuring items from the collection. The other day I came away with Herblock’s History, the catalog for a 2000-2001 exhibit on political cartoonist Herb Block, as well as an array of bookmarks with reprints of historical photographs (such as the one at right showing a woman assembling a B-25 bomber in 1942).
7. It’s our library! When I visit the Library of Congress, I see my taxes at work. Almost everything at the place reminds me that this is our library. The free computer printouts, the helpful attitude of the staff, the accessible cafeteria all seem designed to reinforce the fact that our tax dollars keep the library afloat. As a writer, I tend to love libraries and archives, no matter where they are, but the Library of Congress in particular feels like home.