04/05/11 689 W, 13 I - + 2 - 1 How to Conduct Research at the Library of Congress

First, get to the place. Four or five hours north of Raleigh. Nation's capitol. Right downtown. Take the Metro once you're there: 


The Library of Congress is actually three buildings: Jefferson, Adams, and Madison:

First stop is the Madison Building, where we have to register as a reader. This is the backside of the building, just across the street from the subway stop:

This is one of the entrances, and where employees enter the building. Citizens can enter as well!

Go to the main entrance of the Madison Buiding, however, and the lobby looks like this:

And that's airport-style security screening for everyone entering the building:

Now you're inside of the Madison Building, and you'll head to room LM-140. That's both a cloakroom (for checking coats, bags, etc.) and reader registration.

See, to use the research and reading rooms at the Library of Congress, you have to be a registered reader. This requires completing an application, either in advance online or at this office. And you present identification.

After completing the application and showing your identification, you get your picture taken:

The result is a plastic reader identification card that's good for two years. Read about that process here.

Next stop, the Jefferson Building. That's the location of the main reading room, as well as the research room. Now, all three of the Library of Congress buildings are connected by tunnels. Follow the signs and you'll soon be underground.

Unfortunately, a certain someone forgot to take pictures of those very cool tunnels. Here's a picture found on the web. And don't be alarmed as you walk about these buildings and tunnels and with barely a glance from the many staff members there. Everybody blends together quite fine!

Library of Congress photo

Once inside the Jefferson Building, you have to check your bags at the cloakroom. They only allow a few things in the reading room, such as laptops, paper, pens. Read all about the room. Since photography isn't allowed in the place-- or maybe it's just flash photography-- here's another image from the web:

Library of Congress photo

How do you get your greedy hands on a book? Well, with your reader identification card in hand, you can wander into any of the reading room's alcove and pick up books off the shelf. More likely, you'll request a title through the library's catalog. Next door to the reading room is a research room. Go there, get a computer, and open the online catalog. The staff will help you create an account, and you can easily electronically request one or more books. Just like that.

Next is the wait. Request can take upwards of 40 or 50 or 60 minutes to fulfill. At the time of your request, you can enable e-mail notification, which helps. But beyond that, it's a wait. You can spend time in the research room, using a computer and browsing the many databases on hand. Don't expect to cruise the web and play on Facebook, however. The computers there are for research purposes only. And you can print stuff. For free!

Other time-killers include the library's snack bar on the ground floor of the Madison Building, and the cafeteria on the sixth floor of the Madison Building. Great selection of pretty good food. Nice view, too.

Once your book arrives in the reading room, go to the circulation desk. Then take the thing to a table and commence a-reading'. If you've already staked out a table for yourself, you can even request delivery at the time of your catalog request.

What did Mr. Blogger read that day? Just a couple things. An 1887 Silsby steam engine handbook, as well as company catalog. And a rare book on American water towers by Bill Haas, published a couple decades ago. Frankly, the databases in the research room were more interesting. They had access to all manner of information, from newspaper archives to Sanborn fire insurance maps (digital) from all states. Good stuff. Can't wait to go back.

And that, my friends, is how you conduct research at the Library of Congress.

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