The U.S. Library of Congress in Washington, D.C., is one of those places most people have heard of but have never visited. Sadly, most people who have easy access to it will never make the effort to visit. It is an amazing place both for its content and stunning architecture. I recently visited the main building, renamed in 1980 as the Thomas Jefferson Building. I photographed the Great Hall, but before I share those photographs, I want to provide you some background information.
After President John Adams signed a bill transferring the seat of government to the new capital, Congress established an act legislating a reference library for Congress only, containing “such books as may be necessary for the use of Congress – and for putting up a suitable apartment for containing them therein…“LOC In August 1814, however, invading British troops set fire to the Capitol Building, burning and pillaging the contents of the new library.
Shortly after, retired President Thomas Jefferson offered his personal library as a replacement. He had spent fifty years accumulating books and his library was considered to be one of the finest in the country. He anticipated controversy over the nature of his collection, “…which included books, in foreign languages and volumes of philosophy, science, literature, and other topics not normally viewed as part of a legislative library.”LOC Nonetheless, his concept of universality, the belief that all subjects are important to the library of the American legislature, is the philosophy and rationale behind the comprehensive collecting policies of today’s Library of Congress.LOC
Today’s Library of Congress comprises four buildings. Three are in Washington, D.C., near the Capitol Building and are connected by underground passageways. The fourth building, located in Culpeper, Virginia, serves as an off-site storage facility for less commonly requested materials. The four buildings are as follows:
- Thomas Jefferson Building
- John Adams Building
- James Madison Memorial Building
- Packard Campus for Audio-Visual Conservation (Culpeper, Virginia)
Recently, I visited the Thomas Jefferson Building and photographed the exterior and the interior Great Hall. This is a Beaux-Arts style building, and its classicizing façade and elaborately decorated interior makes it a joy to photograph. I have plans to return soon to photograph the interior in more detail, as well as visit both the John Adams and James Madison Buildings.
Here are some of my photographs of the Thomas Jefferson Building:
NOTE: Please, don’t steal my work — see my copyright notice below. If you’d like to use any of my images, send me a message. If you’re a charitable organization or an educational institution, my answer will probably be “yes.” But please, ask me first. Thank you.
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View of the Library of Congress Thomas Jefferson Building from Capitol Building.
The main entrance.
The carvings are amazing.
Once you pass through security, you enter a room which takes a left turn. The ornate ceiling is breath-taking. Then you take a left into the Great Hall.
In the first room, there are many tributes to well-known authors on the ceiling.
The lower level of the Great Hall is flanked by two staircases with statues.
The skylight fills the Great Hall with warm sunlight.
One of two flanking stair cases in the Great Hall.