The Library of Congress Jefferson Building is one of the most beautiful buildings in Washington, DC! There are plenty of reasons to visit this library, but here are my top five:
One of the best things about Washington, DC is its plethora of available free activities and visiting the Library of Congress is no exception! Entry is free, you just need to reserve a timed entry pass before you go. See the LOC website to reserve your timed entry.
Note: the weekend passes can book out in advance so try to plan ahead if you can!
The Library of Congress also has staff throughout the building available to answer questions and share about the history of the building and its contents. They are super knowledgeable and helpful!
With its synthesis of architecture, art, decoration and ambition, the Library of Congress’s Jefferson Building ranks among America’s greatest achievements.
The LOC Thomas Jefferson building is spectacular both inside and out. It was certainly built to impress – boasting the ambition and achievement of the United States only 100 years after the birth of the nation. The 6th Librarian of Congress, Ainsworth Rand Spofford, convinced Congress to construct a separate building to house the library. An architectural competition was launched in 1873 and the building was completed by 1897.
At the time it was built, the building was described as being Italian Renaissance style. Now the Jefferson Building is recognized as being the flamboyant “Beaux Arts” style popular in the 19th century. The Library of Congress is worth visiting just to see the intricate interior.
Library of Congress Exhibits
Aside from the beauty of the building itself, there are exhibits to see at the LOC Jefferson Building! When you first enter the building, you come across the ongoing exhibit Mapping a Growing Nation containing a collection of early maps of the United States. It is fascinating to see the old borders and maps of individual states. The Library of Congress also has Abel Buell’s “New and Correct Map of the United States of North America” – the first map of the newly independent US, printed and published in the US.
Once you walk up from the mapping exhibit into the main hall of the Library of Congress (after pausing to take in the stunning architecture), you will find the Gutenberg bible – the first printed book. This is important to the library’s collection because it marks a huge turning point in bookmaking. One of the guide’s shared that the printed portion of the bible is only the black ink – the colored decoration was added by artists after printing.
Upstairs on the east side is the ongoing exhibition Exploring the Early Americas. This exhibits indigenous artifacts and explores the results of European exploration and settlement. There are some books recounting encounters with pirates in the Caribbean during early settlement.
Also located on the second floor (west side) is the Rosa Parks: In Her Own Words exhibit. Learn more about Rosa Parks’ life and activism in this extraordinary collection.
A new exhibit just started with photography dating back to 1893. For a full list of current and former exhibits, check out the LOC website.
Thomas Jefferson's Library
Thomas Jefferson had the largest private book collection in North America during his lifetime. View a display of Jefferson’s collection just beside the Rosa Parks exhibit on the western side of the second floor. Ribbons sticking out of the books indicate whether the book is from his original collection or if it is a copy.
Finally, what’s the point of a library if you can’t access the books and media? The library of congress is a huge resource for researchers. There are several reading rooms in the Jefferson Building that can be accessed if you register for a reader card. The main reading room can be viewed from the visitor’s galley on the second floor but the researcher’s entrance is located on the opposite end of the building.
Have you ever visited the Library of Congress Jefferson building? What was your favorite part?