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▫ Some 838 miles of shelves in three buildings on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., house the Library of Congress’ bounty of books and other materials. Visitors should head for the Thomas Jefferson Building, where a visual extravaganza awaits.

 The Library was initially located in a boarding house after its founding on April 24, 1800, and was later moved to the U.S. Capitol. Its first permanent building—bearing former president Jefferson’s moniker—opened in 1897, making it the oldest federal cultural institution in the country.

▫ Why does Jefferson have the honors? After British troops burned the Capitol building and destroyed the library’s core collection of 3,000 volumes, Congress approved the purchase of Jefferson’s personal library—6,487 books bought for $23,950. The volumes that Jefferson originally contributed are on display (southwest pavilion, second floor).

▫ A bibliophile could move in and be right at home in the dazzling, octagon-shaped Reading Room (photo top row, center). It’s spacious (several stories high); gorgeously decorated with golden-color marble columns, statues of writers, artists, and thinkers like Michelangelo and Shakespeare, and a Renaissance-style dome; and has plenty of reading material. The Reading Room can be viewed from an upper level platform called the Overlook. Standing behind a clear plastic partition takes away some of the grandeur, but it’s still an impressive sight.

▫ Let there be light. The library’s light bulb budget is $100,000 a year.

▫ Bacchus, the Roman god of wine, is one of the images adorning the Thomas Jefferson Building’s main chamber. The Great Hall soars 75 feet, rising from a marble floor to a stained glass ceiling. Take some time to soak up the splendor of the Great Hall. Look up, down, and sideways, or you’ll miss its nuances. Woven into the eye-catching display of mosaics, statues, paintings, and decorative details—some of it drawing on the Italian Renaissance style—are themes of literature, music, philosophy, education, and architecture, along with references to the zodiac and mythology and tributes to other countries.

▫ The Guttenberg Bible, on display in the Great Hall, is one of a three-volume set. To reduce wear and tear on the fragile documents, it’s changed out periodically—under armed guard.

▫ Size matters. The collection contains nearly 167 million items, making it the largest library in the world. Of those, 39 million are books (including Novel Destinations) and other printed materials. The rest are films, photos, prints, maps, manuscripts, and sheet music. About half of the books and serials are in languages other than English.

▫ Pick and choose. Every day the library receives 15,000 new items, approximately 12,000 of which are added to the collection.

▫ It’s well worth the time to take a free 60-minute, docent-led tour. It gives a fascinating, more in-depth perspective than strolling through the building on your own (I’ve done both). Learn about the library’s creation and collection, as well as its impressive architectural details. Tours are given several times daily Monday through Saturday, and there’s no need to reserve a spot. Even if 50 or 60 people show up, guides break tour-goers into smaller groups.

▫ Only members of Congress and their staff can check out books. The rest of us can view the digital collection online.

–Shannon McKenna Schmidt

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Nighttime browsing before meeting up with my book group. Or, holiday shopping for me. 🎁 #strandbookskiosk #bryantpark #wintervillage #nyc #booksofig #bookstagram #bookstores
“My mother in Princeton got a cable from me, saying simply: ‘Opening bookshop in Paris. Please send money,’ and she sent me all her savings.” 📚 Using the capital from her super-supportive mother, Sylvia Beach opened Shakespeare & Company, a bookshop and lending library, in Paris on November 19, 1919. Located on the Left Bank’s rue Dupuytren and then in larger quarters on the rue de l’Odéon, the shop quickly became a popular gathering place for expatriate writers like Ezra Pound, Sherwood Anderson, Gertrude Stein, and Ernest Hemingway, who declared himself Beach’s “best customer.” Here Beach fostered literary talent, floated the occasional loan, and in 1922 published James Joyce’s controversial novel ULYSSES at her own expense. (Hemingway helped smuggle the book into the United States, where it was banned.) In SHAKESPEARE & COMPANY, one of my favorite memoirs, Beach shares her fascinating and unique story along with a trove of anecdotes about her famous patrons. 📚 Beach closed up shop in 1941, after a confrontation with a Nazi officer, whom she wouldn’t allow to buy a copy of FINNEGAN’S WAKE he spied in the window. She later granted the right to use the name Shakespeare & Company to fellow American George Whitman, whose shop at 37 rue de la Bûcherie still thrives today and is— just as Beach’s once was—a beacon for book lovers. 📚 #sylviabeach #shakespeareandcompany #100thanniversary #memoir #paris #literarylandmarks #noveldestinations #booksofig #igreads #bookstagram #favoritebooks #chocopain #hobokenlove
What a tease. Walking up Broadway in NYC, I passed by Westsider Books but couldn’t stop for more than a couple of minutes because I had to get to an appointment. I’ll definitely be back to take my time perusing the stacks here. In the meantime, my imagination is working overtime at the thought of what I might find. I’m dreaming of adding some vintage Jane Austens to my shelf. #magicplaces #bookstores #possibilities #westsiderbooks #bookstoresofinstagram #literarytravel #noveldestinations #nyc #nycbookstores

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