Washington, D.C. Travel Guide

Washington, D.C. Sights

Library of Congress

  • 1st St. and Independence Ave. SE Map It
  • Capitol Hill
  • Library/Archive

Published 07/20/2015

Fodor's Review

Founded in 1800, the largest library in the world has more than 155 million items on approximately 838 miles of bookshelves. Only 35 million of its holdings are books—the library also has 3.4 million recordings, 13.6 million photographs, 5.4 million maps, 6.5 million pieces of sheet music, and 68 million manuscripts. Also here is the Congressional Research Service, which, as the name implies, works on special projects for senators and representatives.

Built in 1897, the copper-domed Thomas Jefferson Building is the oldest of the three buildings that make up the library. The dome, topped with the gilt "Flame of Knowledge," is ornate and decorative, with busts of Dante, Goethe, and Nathaniel Hawthorne perched above its entryway. The Court of Neptune, Roland Hinton Perry's fountain at the front steps, rivals some of Rome's best fountains.

The Jefferson Building opens into the Great Hall, richly adorned with mosaics, paintings, and curving marble

stairways. The octagonal Main Reading Room, its central desk surrounded by mahogany readers' tables under a 160-foot-high domed ceiling, inspires researchers and readers alike. Computer terminals have replaced card catalogs, but books are still retrieved and dispersed the same way: readers (16 years or older) hand request slips to librarians and wait for their materials to be delivered. Researchers aren't allowed in the stacks, and only members of Congress and other special borrowers can check books out. Items from the library's collection—which includes one of only three perfect Gutenberg Bibles in the world—are on display in the Jefferson Building's second-floor Southwest Gallery and Pavilion. To even begin to come to grips with the scope and grandeur of the library, one of the free hourly tours is highly recommended. Well-informed docents provide fascinating information about the library's history and holdings; they can decode the dozens of quirky allegorical sculptures and paintings throughout the building.

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  • Main Hall, Library of Congress, Capitol Hill, Washington, D.C., USA

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Sight Information


Jefferson Bldg., 1st St. and Independence Ave. SE, Washington, District of Columbia, 20540, USA

Map It



Website: www.loc.gov

Sight Details:

  • Free

Published 07/20/2015


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