“National Treasure,” the “Book of Secrets,” and the Library of Congress: A Conversation with Main Reading Room Librarian Abby Yochelson

The secret (and fictional) XY section of the stacks in the Main Reading Room constructed for National Treasure 2: Book of Secrets. Photo by Matt Raymond.

The secret (and fictional) XY section of the stacks in the Main Reading Room constructed for National Treasure: Book of Secrets. Photo by Matt Raymond.

The Library of Congress, as most movie fans know, plays a prominent role in the National Treasure film franchise. In fact, the main plot of the second movie, National Treasure: Book of Secrets (2007), hinges around locating the president’s Book of Secrets, which (spoiler alert!) turns out to be located in a secret section of the Library’s Main Reading Room.

National Treasure has prompted many people during the past 15 years to write to the Library about whether the Book of Secrets is a real book. To help address this question my colleague Mark Hall wrote a wonderful post back in 2014, “The Book of Secrets, and Other Secret Books,” that I encourage you to read to learn the real truth about the book.

Looking beyond the Book of Secrets, though, there are many other fascinating ways the National Treasure films reference and portray the Library of Congress. Looking at some of these connections between the film and the Library can serve as a great way to introduce people to the history, collections, services, and mission of the Library of Congress.

As luck would have it, another of my stellar colleagues in the Library’s Researcher and Reference Services Division, Abby Yochelson, recently had an opportunity to discuss the many intersections between the Library of Congress and National Treasure movies and what they can tell us about the Library.

Abby Yochelson, English and American Literature Reference Specialist, Researcher and Reference Services Division

Abby Yochelson, English and American Literature Reference Specialist, Researcher and Reference Services Division

On Thursday, May 11, Abby appeared on the Season 4 finale of the National Treasure Hunt podcast—a biweekly podcast dedicated to the National Treasure franchise—to chat with co-hosts Aubrey Paris and Emily Black about the filming of the National Treasure movies at the Library. The episode, which is available on SoundCloud, Spotify, and Apple Podcasts, covers a wide range of topics will be of interest not only to fans of the National Treasure movies but to anyone interested in learning more about the Library of Congress.

The discussion with Abby begins at the episode’s 10:30 mark, and I’ve timestamped the major topics discusses in case you’d like to skip straight to the sections that most interest you:

  • 11:02 – Abby’s background and her responsibilities as English and American literature specialist in the Main Reading Room
  • 13:52 – A brief history of the Library and its role as an agency of the legislative branch of the U.S. government
  • 25:25 – The Library as former home of the Declaration of Independence and U.S. Constitution
  • 29:42 – Abby’s impressions of the National Treasure films and thoughts on how it has raised public awareness of the Library
  • 32:10 – All about the Book of Secrets
  • 35:46 – The Library as a filming location in the first National Treasure movie
  • 38:29 – On the primary function of the Main Reading Room, and how it differs from other Library reading rooms
  • 40:40 – Details about the filming of the second National Treasure movie at the Library
  • 48:20 – On deleted National Treasure scenes filmed at the Library
  • 52:00 – On the Library’s “special collections section” where the Book of Secrets is shelved, and other (real) special collections at the Library
  • 59:25 – On other films set at the Library of Congress, including J. Edgar
  • 1:04:14 – On the Library as a setting for Dan Brown’s novel The Lost Symbol
  • 1:08:40 – Abby’s thoughts on how the Library is portrayed in the National Treasure films
  • 1:11:35 – Abby answers a series of short questions about the Library and Main Reading Room

The National Treasure films, of course, are not the only movies or works of fiction set at the Library of Congress. To learn more about the Library as a setting in fictional works, see Abby’s 2014 blog post “A Novel Approach: The Library in Fiction.”

Abby mentions the Library’s vibrant Ask a Librarian service at several points during the podcast. If the episode leaves you wanting to learn more about the Library’s history, collections, and services, especially as they relate to literature and poetry, she’d be the first to tell you to send your questions to us through Ask a Librarian!

2 Comments

  1. Patience Frederiksen
    May 18, 2022 at 5:33 pm

    I have another question about a movie at LC. In All the President’s Men, Dustin Hoffman and Robert Redford get a big stack of cards detailing someone’s checkouts from LC. That scene always drove me crazy! Aren’t circulation records confidential at LC? I know Alaska has a library confidentiality law for circ records and I believe that most other states do. Does LC have such a law in place?

    • Peter Armenti
      May 19, 2022 at 9:54 am

      Great question, Patience! Here is Abby’s response:

      “You were absolutely right to be driven crazy by that scene! The Library of Congress would not have revealed those records. While it was an interesting filming job pulling up and up and up into the dome to provide the bird’s-eye view, we would not reveal confidential information.”

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