A New Vision for an Inspiring Location

Artist's rendering of an installation of a window in the ceiling looking up to a round dome

Artist’s rendering of the future oculus – a circular glass window that will allow visitors to look up to the dome of the Library’s Thomas Jefferson Building from a new orientation center.

The first time I stepped onto the floor of the Library of Congress’ Main Reading Room and looked up at the soaring, picturesque dome, I was overcome with a sense of wonder and gratitude for the opportunity to experience the inspiration that this iconic American space provides.

Because the Main Reading Room continues to serve as a working space for researchers, I had an opportunity to experience this majestic dome that many of the 2 million yearly visitors to the Library’s Thomas Jefferson Building cannot have … yet.

One of the many features in the Library’s comprehensive Visitor Experience Master Plan will offer every visitor is the opportunity to gaze up at that dome — a painting that represents Human Understanding in the act of lifting the veil of ignorance and looking forward to intellectual progress.

A rendering of the new orientation center. The oculus, in the center of the room, will allow visitors to see the ceiling of the Main Reading Room.

The Library will accomplish this, while also preserving the quiet character and intended function of the Main Reading Room, by installing an oculus – a circular glass window that will allow all visitors to see the dome from a new orientation center below the Main Reading Room. It’s where visitors will begin their Library journey.

For the researcher seeking insight, information and inspiration in the Main Reading Room, the experience will change very little. Librarians will be available to assist researchers. Staff will still deliver and distribute books and other research materials for use there. Access to digital resources will continue. The circular desk at the center of the room will remain. Only the cabinet enclosing a central staircase and book elevator at the center of the room, which has been modified and updated several times since 1897, will be removed to make way for the oculus. In most areas of the Main Reading Room, the oculus will be invisible, since it will be inside the perimeter of the circular desk.

Meanwhile, the new orientation center will occupy the space previously used as the control room. The historic functions of the control room, where books arrived for delivery to the Main Reading Room via the book elevator (which replaced the original dumbwaiter), have evolved many times since 1897 when the Library opened.

Today, the delivery of materials no longer requires a central control room. Repurposing that space will provide visitors with an educational and inspiring orientation to the Library’s vast resources, as well as a stunning view of the Main Reading Room’s dome.

A new learning center is part of the renovation project.

These are just a few of the exciting elements of the Library’s Visitor Experience Master Plan, which also includes a new Treasures Gallery and a learning center that will offer families, teens and school groups with opportunities to engage with Library collections through innovative interactive experiences.

All of these new experiences are possible thanks to generous investments from Congress and from generous private sector donations. David Rubenstein, the chairman of the Library’s James Madison Council and co-executive chairman of The Carlyle Group, has pledged $10 million to support the visitor experience project, and other private sector donors will also support it. Congress has expressed enthusiastic support and has appropriated $40 million to fund it.

The planning, design and construction of a project of this scope is significant. If current efforts remain on track, we look forward to welcoming our first visitors to experience some of the new elements included in the Visitor Engagement Master Plan in 2023 when the Treasures Gallery opens.

The Library seeks to democratize access. We want to share the art and architecture of one of Washington’s most grand and beautiful rooms with the many, not the few. This is a public treasure funded by the American people — and more people should experience the wonder of their national library.

The Library’s mission is to engage, inspire and inform Congress and the American people – researchers and visitors alike – with a universal and enduring source of knowledge and creativity. The Visitor Experience Master Plan represents a visionary pathway to engage more Americans than ever in their Library, the Library of Congress.

A new gallery of the Library’s treasures will allow more visitors to see more of the Library’s most important holdings.

Subscribe to the blog— it’s free!

Last Chance to See “Creating the U.S.”

On May 5, the Library will close its popular exhibition “Creating the United States.” The exhibition has been on view for four years and seen approximately 2 million visitors passing through its space. Pulitzer Prize-winning historian David McCullough once called it the one exhibition every American should see on a visit to Washington, D.C. Notable […]

Shiny, Appy People: Library Gets iPhone App

Developers for the iPhone and iPad have been able to say “there’s an app for that” about a quarter-million times–the total number currently available in Apple’s App Store.  But not until now has there been an official app for the Library of Congress.  (So far it’s the first and only app–don’t be fooled by imitators!) […]

By the Time We Got to Bookstock …

Right now, here and there all over the world, people are sitting down with a good book and enjoying a good read. Sprawled on the lawn, curled up on the sofa, sitting on the steps in the piazza — they’re communing with a great author, or a funny author, or an author who’s telling them […]

The Joys of Jabbing Jefferson

When revolutionary-turned-president Thomas Jefferson still walked the streets of Washington, D.C., there were people who wanted to give him a good jab with their index finger and hand him a piece of their minds. These days, here on Capitol Hill, you can give Thomas Jefferson a jab … and dig a little deeper into his […]


From time to time, we ask ourselves: Where is the outrage? Well, for an amazing 72 years, it was on editorial pages, especially that of the Washington Post–in political commentary by the influential cartoonist Herblock (Herb Block), who made presidents and other public figures, from Herbert Hoover to George W. Bush, ink-stained and wretched. The Library […]

Stat of the Day: Visitors Up 47 Percent

I thought I would pass along a statistic that has been floating about for the past couple of days: Our total number of visitors from January to April 2009 increased a whopping 69 percent over 2007!  (We’re comparing against 2007 because the same period in 2008 had too many variables, including an extended building closure […]