(The following is a guest post by Library of Congress reference librarian Abby Yochelson.)
This Monday, the Library of Congress holds its annual Columbus Day Open House in the Main Reading Room in the Thomas Jefferson Building. Every year, excited tourists and school groups from all over the United States and around the world, families with babies in strollers and eager photographers visit by the thousands. The look on their faces is one of awe, when seeing the soaring dome and magnificent art up close.
Throughout the day, visitors have the opportunity to speak with librarians, view collections from many different parts of the institution and take photos of themselves among the Library’s riches. Tours of the Great Hall and hands-on activities in the Young Readers Center add to the excitement. More information on Monday’s event can be found here.
Librarians have helped open-house visitors find a record of their book or their father’s or grandmother’s books in the online catalog and delightedly snapped photos of them proudly standing next to the giant screen displaying the evidence that they have a book in the Library of Congress. Teachers and burgeoning family archivists are also regular attendees.
One visitor discovered a great-great uncle’s account of his World War II experience in the Library’s Veterans History Project. Another found the house she grew up in while looking at an 1887 panoramic map of Philadelphia.
Reference librarians on hand at last year’s event recall one young patron asking about material on keeping rats as pets. “My parents said if I write a really persuasive essay, they’ll consider it.”
However, the open house isn’t the only time visitors can enjoy the Library’s collections and reference services. The Main Reading Room and several other reading rooms are open to researchers six days a week, Monday through Saturday, throughout the year except for government holidays. Anyone 16 years and older with photo identification and curiosity about anything can use the Library of Congress. It’s simple to obtain the Researcher Identification Card and explore a variety of interests, such as family genealogy, the latest astronomy discoveries or diaries of founding fathers to learn their thoughts on the Constitution.
Not everyone can take advantage of coming to the Library in person, so the reference staff works to continuously digitize historical material. The Library not only collects materials from all over the world in all languages and formats, it also makes much of these collections accessible online. Popular collections include the Prints and Photographs Online Catalog, Chronicling America’s newspapers and the National Jukebox. A complete list of the Library’s digital collections can be found here.
In addition, the Library’s knowledgeable librarians can provide reference services virtually through the Ask a Librarian service.
The Library also offers many ways to keep up with news and events, such as exhibition openings (all exhibitions are online too) or new digitized collections, by subscribing to a wide variety of blogs, RSS feeds or email lists.