"I cannot live without books." - Thomas Jefferson
I love books. Yes, I love reading but I love books themselves too. I like touching them, smelling them, seeing them... I'm a bibliophile in every sense of the word. My obsession with books started at a young age - my mom read to me throughout my childhood, a gift I'll always cherish. In school, I read books as they were assigned, but I also read books just for fun. I found it freeing, and enjoyed being able to explore the world of words (even if I hadn't explored the actual world yet). It came as no surprise to many that I majored in English in college (even if it wasn't my first major - it was definitely one I didn't regret).
Last fall, I stumbled upon an art exhibit at the Bakersfield Museum of Art called "Out of Print." The entire exhibit featured sculptures and paintings that used books as their major medium. It was FABULOUS! Below are a couple of collages of pictures I took at the event.
A paperback dog, two phonebook carvings, and a dyed flower... pictures do not do these justice!
Paintings on stacks of books - the elephant at the bottom stood over 5 feet tall!
When I visited DC in June, my friend asked if I wanted to join her for some tours set up by her home state senator. I eagerly accepted the invite, and was beyond thrilled to discover that a private tour of the Library of Congress was included in our scheduled tours.
The exterior of the Thomas Jefferson Building
Although the Library of Congress has been around since 1800, the Library as we know it is version 2.0 (the original was destroyed by fire during the War of 1812). The Library is now housed in 4 buildings in DC, the most famous being the above pictured Thomas Jefferson Building. Topped by a 23 carat gold plated flame, the Jefferson building opened it doors in 1897 to much fanfare. Strangely enough, it wasn't referred to as the Thomas Jefferson Building until 1980, having been referred to simply as the main building for nearly a century. Our tour took place entirely in this building.
A view of the North Mosaic Corridor
After a short introductory video (which we unfortunately missed), our small tour group was led to the North Mosaic Corridor. Having known a bit about the grandeur about the library, I thought that this was the start of the Great Hall and took a ton of pictures. I had prohibited myself to look at Google images before arriving (I hate spoilers), and literally had no idea of amazing sights I was about to see...
THIS is the Great Hall. Now, the Library was built with the idea in mind that all that visited the Great Hall would enter from these enormous bronze doors on the first floor. The tours, however, lead you throw a dark, marble staircase that gives you little indication that you're about to witness something so grand. The tour guide warned us that from this point forward our mouths would be agape in awe, and she was right!
Another thing the tour guide remarked at was the amount of gold leafing used to detail the paintings, mosaics, and murals on the walls of the hall. No picture could adequately capture the glimmer these walls have - it's simply spectacular! At the time it was built, it was said that no one building in the capital had more gold leaf on or in it, and I would be surprised if that weren't still true today.
From the ground floor, the tour guide had us pay attention to the pair of marble staircases that flank either side of the Great Hall. The base of each has a statue of a woman holding the torch of knowledge to light your way. Each of the cherubs on the staircases represent different jobs, hobbies, and other ways of life that "typical Americans" may have. I found them to be charming. We used these staircases to make our way up to what would be the grand finale of our tour.
We climbed one final staircase just before entering the last stop on our tour, stopping midway to view the above pictured mosaic of Minerva. For those not aware, Minerva is the Roman Goddess of learning and wisdom. Although she carries a spear, she actually represents peace in this mosaic and again "educates" the viewer about the various occupations of wisdom. This stunning mosaic glistens again with real gold leafing, and is the perfect stopping point before the grand finale.
photo credit to Phototourismdc.com
Somewhat infuriatingly, we were stopped just before entering the final room and advised that no photos were allowed beyond the door. We were also told that nearly every person that ever enters the door says the exact same word upon entering. What we were not told, however, was that we were about to enter the Reading Room. This room is where thousands of researchers from across the country begin their research in the Library of Congress. Any person over the age of 16 with a Reader Card is permitted to enter and research from the Reading Room (news of which simultaneously excited me and broke my heart - there was no way I was going to be able to swing a visit there during this trip). You can read more about visiting it here. Trust me - it's on my list for next time.
The coolest thing about the Library of Congress is that anyone (yes - anyone over 16) can actually look at the books here. Readers have access to a collection of over 34.5 million printed works, included millions of first edition books, comic books, newspapers, maps, etc and many more music and film records. It's a bibliophile's dream! I can't wait to go back and look at the books myself one day. If you're interested in taking your own tour, it's best to do so with an appointment but not necessary. You can read about the various tours available here.
There is a lot of history about the Library of Congress, but at the risk of getting wordier than I already have, I'll let you google it :) Hope you enjoyed the pictures!
Until next time...
PS: This is the guard dog that was standing outside of the building when we left our tour. Not so scary, is he? :)