Visiting the NatLibs of the World: The Library of Congress

Most readers will know that our building in Wellington is being redeveloped. While we wait for the ground floor to re-open, we thought we would take a virtual tour of some of the other National Library buildings we’ve visited, admired, and been inspired by. We started with the National Library of Australia, and now consider the Library of Congress, in the USA.

The Library of Congress was established in 1800, and currently has three principal buildings on Capitol Hill in Washington D.C. The oldest of these is the Thomas Jefferson Building, opened in 1897.

Thomas Jefferson Building exteriorExterior of the Thomas Jefferson Building

It is a beautiful building inside and out (but not done justice by this photograph), and my favourite part is the dome, high above the main reading room.

Reading Room DomeEdwin Howland Blashfield's murals, which adorn the dome of the Main Reading Room

In 1939 the John Adams Building was opened, and in 1980 this was followed by the James Madison Memorial Building, an enormous structure taking up a full city block.

Near the exit, there’s a quiet hall with a statue of Madison himself.

James Madison Memorial Building exteriorJames Madison Memorial Building exterior

Statue of James MadisonStatue of James Madison

In writing about the other library buildings we’ve visited, we’re also trying to draw lessons we can apply to our own situation.

There are plans to move the Treaty of Waitangi from ArchivesNZ to the National Library building on Molesworth Street. At that time, the building will be renamed, though as yet no name has yet been chosen. The Library of Congress faced a similar problem in 1980, when the “Main Building” or “Library of Congress Building” was renamed to the Thomas Jefferson Building. All three buildings are now named after Presidents.

But that’s not the lesson I want to draw. Cool as document delivery via TeleLift may be, better still would be a network of underground passages, like those that connect the buildings of the Library of Congress.

Tunnels under the Library of Congress buildingsTunnels under the Library of Congress buildings

By Gordon Paynter

Gordon likes libraries.

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