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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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“Ford followed him through the central hall of the Library to the East Room, whose walls were covered with bookshelves. There were two upper tiers with promenades of frosted glass and polished brass balustrades so that any book could be easily removed from its place no matter how high. Morgan walked up to the far wall, pressed the spine of a certain book, and part of the shelving swung away to reveal a passageway through which a man could pass.” ... I changed the order of the five NYC-set novels I added to my TBR, delving into Ragtime first. A guest I had in town wanted to visit the Morgan Library, which is a setting for a scene in the story, so it seemed only fitting to start with this one. The story is an homage to NYC, an intriguing blend of fictional characters and real people, set in the tumultuous years leading up to World War I and told in a style that is both dreamlike and gritty. I’m a little more than halfway through, and I already know I’m going to be reluctant to finish because I won’t want it to end. ... #nyc #nycreads #morganlibrary #ragtime #eldoctorow #literarylandmarks #noveldestinations #booksofig #igreads #classicbooks #bookstagram #book @themorganlibrary
I love browsing at the library with no specific titles in mind, just seeing what catches my eye. Like these three novels, all of which I’m excited to read. But I may have been a bit overzealous because first I need to finish the three other books I have going right now. #readingresponsibilities #booksbooksbooks #milkman #annaburns #theparagonhotel #lyndsayfaye #unmarriageable #soniahkamal #bookstack #bookstagram #booksofig #igreads #bookwormproblems #library #librarybooks #hobokenlibrary @hobokenlibrary #springreads @graywolfpress @penguinrandomhouse @putnambooks @lyndsayfaye @soniahkamal
I borrowed The House of Mirth from the library to use in the book stack in my last post, and I couldn’t resist re-reading it. It’s one of my favorite Edith Wharton works, along with Glimpses of the Moon. ... Wharton wrote The House of Mirth, the novel that launched her into literary superstardom, in an upstairs bedroom suite overlooking the gardens at The Mount, her estate in the Berkshire Mountains in Lenox, Massachusetts. In addition to crafting Gilded Age fiction, Wharton had a talent for architecture and landscape design. She designed The Mount’s three-story, 42-room mansion (see next pic) and elaborate French- and Italianate-style gardens. Wharton told a friend, “Decidedly, I’m a better landscape gardener than a novelist, and this place, every line of which is my own work, far surpasses The House of Mirth.” ... #thehouseofmirth #edithwharton #themount #lenoxmass #noveldestinations #classics #literarytravel #books #springreading #bookstagram #booksofig #igreads @themountlenox

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