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Visiting the Library of Congress in Washington, DC
The largest library in the world makes for a fascinating historical and literary experience in the nation’s capital.
What and where is the Library of Congress?
The Library of Congress is housed across three buildings on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC: the Thomas Jefferson Building (10 1st Street SE), the James Madison Memorial Building (101 Independence Avenue SE) and the John Adams Building (2nd Street SE, between Independence Avenue and East Capitol Street). The library houses more than 164 million items, from books to photos to recordings to maps to…much, much more. It also serves as a museum, with numerous exhibits inside the incredible Thomas Jefferson Building.
All the Library of Congress’ buildings can be entered free of charge. The Thomas Jefferson Building is open from Monday – Saturday, 8:30 a.m. – 5 p.m. The building is closed every Sunday and on Thanksgiving Day, Christmas and New Year’s Day. The James Madison Memorial Building and the John Adams Building are primarily used for research – learn more about the Library of Congress’ buildings, including tours and current exhibitions, and check out the hours for reading rooms across the three buildings.
The easiest way to reach the Library of Congress is via Metrorail or the DC Circulator’s Union Station-Navy Yard Metro route. The closest Metro stop is Capitol South station on the Orange, Blue and Silver lines. Simply exit the station using the main exit and walk two blocks north on First Street SE. The Union Station-Navy Yard route stops on First Street, making for a short walk to the Library of Congress’ buildings.
What’s inside the Library of Congress?
The best visitor experience can be found inside the Library of Congress’ Thomas Jefferson Building. However, over in the James Madison Memorial Building, don’t miss Baseball’s Greatest Hits: The Music of Our National Game, which is on display through Dec. 31, 2017.
You will be dazzled upon walking in the door of the Jefferson Building. Gilded Age architecture makes its interior a visual masterpiece, a work of art worthy of housing the immense amount of knowledge that it holds. Once you’re done snapping photos for Instagram, it’s time to explore the building’s many exhibits.
Currently, seven of the Thomas Jefferson Building’s exhibits are ongoing. Here to Stay: The Legacy of George and Ira Gershwin reveals the lives of the sibling duo and their powerful influence on modern music. The Swann Gallery is a fun dive into political cartoons, comics, animation art and caricatures, while the Herblock Gallery reveals the imaginative work of political cartoonist Herbert L. Block. Thomas Jefferson’s Library is a stunning recreation of the Founding Father’s immense collection of books that founded the Library of Congress.
Exploring the Early Americas chronicles Native American culture and their conflict with Europeans. Notably, the exhibit features Martin Waldseemüller’s 1507 map of the world, the first to feature the word “America”. Hope for America: Performers, Politics and Pop Culture focuses on the career of Bob Hope and many other entertainers who have engaged with politics in their work, and how this intersection impacts American society. Mapping a Growing Nation: From Independence to Statehood showcases the first map of the independent U.S. compiled, printed and published in America by an American (his name was Abel Buell).
There are also numerous exhibits inside the Jefferson Building that rotate regularly. Through Oct. 28, 2017, you can view Drawing Justice: The Art of Courtroom Illustration, which displays drawings of courtrooms while illuminating how the artists are able to replicate the dynamics of the setting. Echoes of the Great War: American Experiences of World War I (on display through Jan. 2019) examines the tremendous impact of the Great War, both in America and abroad.
The Library of Congress also frequently hosts events and tours – take a look at the events calendar for your planning. The institution also curates the National Book Festival every year, and often hosts an outdoor film festival on its grounds during the summer.