Fanciest Library Day

Amtrak Adventure 24/31 (about October 23rd, 2021)

Yesterday was our last day in DC; I hope you like pictures!

After getting a glimpse of the Library of Congress reading room two days ago, I couldn’t get it out of my mind. It was only open to “researchers,” not the general public, but there had to be a way I could get in—so I scoured their website and found a researcher registration form! Hmm, I’m researching the reading room experience of libraries across America, and am a writer with a daily publication… that counts, right?

Mattea didn’t put much weight in that excuse, so started the day exploring the Mall more with my mother, going to the Vietnam memorial (my maternal grandfather is a veteran) and meeting one of mom’s college friends there.

Meanwhile, I spent my morning tromping around the Library of Congress complex—there are three buildings—asking security guards how to get in and around to claim my Reader ID. I eventually got into the Madison Building through a “STAFF, MEMBERS OF CONGRESS, AND RESEARCHERS ONLY” entrance, went through security, and was directed around three hallways to an obscure room with a big closed door.

Tada!! I got it! I’m dramatizing a lot; it took less than an hour total, and all the staff were very nice and understanding of my confusion. (And I think any American citizen is allowed to get a card, even if you’re not a proper “researcher” like me.)

But then I learned that the reading room is appointment only—I couldn’t just charge in and sit down to read for a few hours. Thankfully, almost nobody is going through the hassle to use it, so there were plenty of availabilities in the afternoon (from 1-4 PM).

Unfortunately, it wasn’t the afternoon yet; only 11:30 AM. So I had an hour and a half to kill, and the buildings on Capitol Hill are only pretty enough to stare at for so long.

Thankfully, there were electric scooters aplenty laying around, and I’d never used one before! I decided to extend the adventure and ride one down to the opposite end of the Mall, where Mattea was sitting by the Lincoln Memorial.

$13, 20 minutes, and 2 close brushes with death later, I arrived and parked my scooter on a side street (you can’t end your ride in the Mall proper). It wasn’t a very good experience; I’m way too tall to steer one safely, they max out at 11 mph, and you have to choose between braving pedestrians (going too fast on the sidewalk) or cars (going too slow in the road). In hindsight, any other method of transit would have been faster, cheaper, and nicer: bicycle, bus, taxi, jogging, and so on. Live and learn!

Thankfully, I managed to find Mattea at the end of it all; we walked back east the way I’d come, enjoying the sights and taking selfies with everything that seemed important.

About 1/3 of the way back, I realized it was already 12:30, and took off on foot back to Capitol Hill for my library appointment. Mattea went off to join Mom—they went to a few other memorials in the area, ate lunch, and generally had a good time (I hear)!

But I didn’t hear or think of any of that until later; I was fixated on the prize, and got to the Jefferson Building only 10 minutes late. Breezing past the signs that say “no bags are allowed in the reading room,” I found my way to the entrance to the reading room, only to be turned around and told that no bags are allowed in the reading room.

Oh well; it was just another 5 minute round trip to drop off my bag at the cloakroom and carry my laptop and journal by hand. (I would have just taken them out of the bag and shoved it in my pocket, but got the sense that wouldn’t have been appreciated.)

And then, as if the earlier scooter ride had gone a bit worse, I was let into heaven!!

It’s magnificent; the main area has ~300 workspaces, arranged in four circles around a central desk of librarians. Each is made of wood at an aggressive ~20° slope, but is covered in a thick glass top that provides both protection/durability and increased grippiness (none of my things ever started sliding).

Along the outside ring of desks, there are giant atlases on display, and the occasional water fountain—all of which are made out of the same granite/marble/sandstone material that the inside is decorated with (I don’t know my rocks well). The whole area is carpeted, so there are no loud squeaky sounds as people move their chairs.

All around the desks are two stories of shelves (“alcoves”), one on top of the other with railings around to form balconies. Occasional tables and chairs provide temporary places for researchers to page through books they’ve found before taking them all the way back to their desks. The selection is very skewed towards history, biography, and law… but what could I expect, it’s for the US Congress.

I spent half my time sitting in awe and the other half reading and writing. For reading, I found a 30-year-old copy of the Great Books of the Western World (2nd Edition) (with “Library of Congress” custom-embossed on the cover of each volume!) and decided to see what Adler’s Syntopicon had to say about Education. For writing, I reflected on the experience of making these daily updates, and marveled more at my location.

10/10 library experience. Would enjoy again.

4 PM eventually came, and I left to wander around Capitol Hill with Mattea & Mom and take some final pictures. From there, we went to Union Station, stocked up on food, and boarded the train—Louisiana bound!

(As of tomorrow, these updates should start coming out on time again… oops!)