Friday, June 24, 2011

In Which I See a Proper Library

Earlier in the week I made a reservation to take a tour of the Capitol Building.  I arrived early Thursday afternoon and, after the long wait for security (do take the instructions seriously that say to allow at least 45 minutes for that!  Also, when they say no drinks, they mean water bottles, too), entered into the blissful air conditioning to be sorted into a tour group with the masses.

The tour began with a video giving an overview of the history of the building and the set-up of Congress.  I actually thought the video did a nice job covering both of those topics and the comfort of that giant theater can't be beat.

Everyone is then directed up the stairs and sorted into five smaller groups.  A woman in the requisite red jacket handed me a set of earphones with a little digital receiver attached to it.  When I put it on, I heard the woman standing at the front of our line giving us pre-tour instructions.  Each tour groups was connected to a microphone worn by their individual guides.  This allows them to have multiple groups in the rooms at the same time and, despite the rooms' terrible acoustics, everyone could still hear their own guides.

The tour itself was short - we visited the rotunda and the statuary hall (where the Representatives used to meet).  That was it.  The guide provided a lot of interesting information about the structure of the building and the history of the statues.  Each state gets to contribute two statues of any person as long as 1) the statue is made of either marble or bronze and 2) the subject of the statue is dead.  "The state can choose anyone they want," the guide explained.  "Even if everyone else in the country hates them," and here, I swear, she gave a sidelong glance to the statue of Brigham Young we were standing next to, "as long as the state loves them the state can contribute them."

After we were dismissed from the tour, I visited the Exhibition Hall.  There was a row a digital touch screens set up where you could learn more about Congress or the Capitol building.  I looked up the list of statues to see who Colorado had contributed: Florence R. Sabin and John L. Swigert.  (Utah's other contribution, by the way, was good ol' Philo.)

There is a tunnel that connects the Capitol to my next destination so I walked to the Library of Congress without having to re-endure the heat or the security lines.

When I mentioned the Library of Congress earlier in the week, Jason encouraged the visit, saying that it was the most beautiful building in the city.

I have to agree.  It's stunning; a mosaic-ed, fresco-ed, and carved temple dedicated to knowledge.  From the names of various writers set in gold in the ceiling and walls to the quotations about knowledge and books on the upper walls, I loved it. 

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The main reading room was closed except to researchers, but I did get a glimpse of it through the plastic-enclosed public viewing room on the second level. Oh, the wood! The lighting! The statues of inspirations figures looking down at you! The books! It called to mind the long afternoons I spend reading while Jason studied in the fabulous reading room at the New York Public Library, and I wanted nothing more than to settle in to one of those leather seats with my Kindle.

Dang researchers-only rule.

Instead I went to one of the galleries in the wings where they set up Thomas Jefferson's personal library. After reading about it in At Home, I was eager to take a look at his collection myself. They have his books (well, the ones that weren't burnt, that is. They did replace the lost books with other matching editions for this display, but only about 1/3 of the books there were actually his) set in glass shelves in a circle so you can stand in the middle, surrounded by the books, just as it should be.

It's a beautiful building and well worth a visit. It also raised my standards for my home library, dang it.

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