Library of Congress Experience Sneak Preview

This past Monday, Cheryl Regan of the Library’s Interpretive Programs Office (i.e., she’s in charge of exhibitions) was gracious enough to allow me to tip-toe around the fabrication materials and power tools over in the Thomas Jefferson Building and lead me on a behind-the-scenes tour of the installation of our new Library of Congress Experience.

We’re having a big public celebration and grand opening on April 12 from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., so if you’re in DC, stop by to “explore, discover and be inspired.” (That’s the tagline that folks in the DC are hopefully starting to see on ads.) There will be plenty of time for a visit after the Cherry Blossom Parade ends.

There is truly a tremendous amount of activity occurring in the building (which is closed to the public, except the reading rooms, until April 12), and I just walked back from there to see that so much progress has been made even since I shot this video. Nevertheless, I hope it whets your appetite.

There is so much more I could have shown too, but I wanted to come in under the YouTube 10-minute limit. And for those of you who want to see the Library do even more with video behind my first rather amateurish attempt, well, just you wait.

A full transcript follows after the jump …

UPDATE: I replaced the herky-jerky video from the original post with a better version.

Cheryl Regan, Library of Congress Interpretive Programs Office: Right now we are in the south gallery of the Great Hall, and this will be one of our orientation areas.

The majority of the public will now enter through the first floor through the Great Hall as the architects, when they opened the building in 1897, had intended. So they will come through this way and the first thing that they will see and they will be captivated by this, I know, is this multimedia presentation on the Library as a whole.

We know from doing specific surveys that people don’t really understand what it is that we are, you know, the breadth of what it is that we do. So it’s not just about the collections, it’s about the programs we offer. It’s the behind-the-scenes look.

What we’re seeing over on this side is where the large orientation desk will go.

Matt Raymond, Office of Communications (off-camera): What do we see above that?

Cheryl Regan: We see this three-screen array, which will let you know what’s happening in the Library, what programs are happening, what exhibits are on view, what featured treasures you might be able to encounter if you just have a short period of time to go through the Library, and donors. They will also be able to pick up a “Passport to Knowledge.”

Matt Raymond: What is that?

Cheryl Regan: The Passport to Knowledge at this point is a way-finding piece.

It will show maps of the various floors, point out the location of the galleries of the treasured, featured highlights of the Experience. And later it will be your main means of bookmarking.

Matt Raymond: And what is, explain bookmarking.

Cheryl Regan: Bookmarking is something that we will institute and unveil fully in December. You will be able to take this Passport, which will have a unique barcode on the front and the back and that will be your unique number. And you will be able to go through the Experience. If you’re seeing something that is of interest that you want to follow up with at home, you will be able to physically insert the passport into a kiosk and it will register that you want to follow up at home on your own personal account.

Right now we are in the east corridor of the Thomas Jefferson Building. We are in the “History of the Written Word” section, and if you pan around and see these wonderful murals by John Alexander.

Matt Raymond: This one over here appears to be Gutenberg himself.

Cheryl Regan: It does, and in fact, it’s so appropriate that the Library’s copy of the Gutenberg Bible is below. Interactives will be installed in these galleries that really let you again page-by-page through, or examine, I should say, pages, spreads of the bibles, looking at the historiated letters, the capitals, sort of understanding the notion of how important this introduction of movable type was in Western Europe.

Right now, you’re seeing the entrance to what is the Northwest Pavilion and Curtain. The early, “Exploring the Early Americas” takes up essentially two spaces. A large exhibit, over 300 items in that exhibit, and it features the collections of Jay I. Kislak. So this section of the exhibit focuses on pre-contact America, again interspersing materials from the Library’s own collection in with the materials from the Jay I. Kislak collection. We tend to be a paper repository for the most part, but these materials fit within the Library’s collection because we are looking at the glyphs that decorate many of these pieces as writing. So another form of text.

These are the “Conquest of Mexico” paintings, recounting the conquest of Mexico, and the interactives like the interactives that will be in the Great Hall give you the ability to really hone in on detail, the detail of these paintings. Things that are hard to see because of low lighting you are really able to focus in on.

Well, the first thing you certainly notice in this area is these two maps. The space here is dominated by Martin Waldseemüller’s 1507 map, world map, and his 1516 Carta Marina, which is a navigational chart.

The Library had wanted the 1507 Waldseemüller map for a very long time. At the beginning of the 20th century they became aware of it existence. We think that there is only one copy of this map. It’s so significant because it’s the first time that the Pacific Ocean is defined, the first time that the continents, North and South America are defined, and it’s the first time that the word “America” appears on a map.

Amerigo Vespucci had made some recent journeys to the New World and Martin Waldsmueller takes Amerigo Vespucci name and he feminizes it and calls, he’s writing on South America, which is what’s pictured there, “America.”

So we’re entering what will be the “Creating the United States,” the exhibition devoted to the founding documents: the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.

This piece is what we’re calling our overture piece. It will be a reactive video and as you walk up to it you will see bands of the words that make up the Declaration, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights floating by. But as you walk up, things will merge on the screen, so next week this will be activated and populated by images, historic images and contemporary images, moving images that show you scenes of the impact of these founding documents and the impact that they continue to have.

We will be focusing on the drafts because we have those materials in this collection, the things that led up to the creation of the final drafts of the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights. So the idea here is to really concentrate on that process. The process of writing, the process of compromise, the process of editing, re-drafting.

We are entering what will be “Thomas Jefferson’s Library” and the reconstruction of that library that was sold to Congress after the British burned the Capitol in the War of 1812.

We will have interactives, three interactives that are keyed to the sections: the Memory section, the Reason section, and the Imagination section.

There will be a shelf above the interactive that will be a display shelf, so that we will have one of Jefferson’s books open. Virtually you will be able to turn the pages of that book on the interactive. There are other books on that shelf which you can find more about that are representative of what would be, say, in the Memory section.

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  1. Denise Olson
    April 5, 2008 at 5:05 am

    I feel like I was just given a personal tour of the upcoming exhibit. This is a great idea and a great promotional tool. I’m dying to come see the exhibit.

  2. JW
    April 7, 2008 at 10:19 am

    What a great tour! I’m so excited to see the exhibit, and I think this will give people a MUCH better idea of what the LoC is all about. Nice work!

  3. Justin Thorp
    April 8, 2008 at 8:46 am

    Love love love the video. :-) Please do more of them.

    I’m really excited to see the new experience. Too bad I won’t be in town this weekend for the grand opening. Will definitely be there next weekend.

  4. Moldova
    April 18, 2008 at 2:11 pm

    Nice video. I have seen this kind of dialog on another governmental blog (www. It is very good that the government is trying to bring fun into politics.

  5. Robert J. Devaux
    March 1, 2009 at 2:11 pm

    My comment has to do with the fact that Waldseemueller’s map of 1507 was a prank to honour his friend Vespucci, by putting his name on the map as “America”. Instead of “Columbia”, because the truth is that Columbus landed in the Golf of Paria on his third voyage in 1498, a year before Vespussi passed that way in 1499 on Capt. Ojeda’s voyage of discovery. There’s more!

  6. Robert J. Devaux
    March 1, 2009 at 2:17 pm

    When Vespucci returned to Europe and found out that Columbus had actually landed in the Golf of Paria, Vespucci lied that he had made a secret voyage there in 1497.
    Juan de la Cosa who was navigator on that voyage in 1499 as well as Columbus’ second voyage in 1494 and knew the area well, produced a map in 1500. Waldseemueller’s map was never published for general use.

  7. handbags
    April 21, 2009 at 11:27 pm

    This is a great idea and a great promotional tool.I’m really excited to see the new experience.

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