13 April 2012

Library Inspiration: The Library of Congress

Library of Congress Reading Room
I recently had the pleasure to visit the Library of Congress in Washington, DC. Due to time constraints, I could only take time to visit one of its three buildings—the Jefferson Building—which sits directly across from the capital building and is more of a museum and shrine than a practical library.

While I was at the Jefferson Building I toured the grand lobby, viewed a couple of exhibits, and visited the impressive circular Reading Room which can only be accessed on the ground level floor by approved researchers and staff. From an upper floor balcony, visiting tourists are ushered in roughly ten at a time so as not to overcrowd the glassed in balcony overlooking the domed room. It was quite an impressive sight. Unfortunately, no photography is allowed in that room, so I can offer you the above scanned image from the small note card I purchased in the gift shop.

A wonderful feature that the LoC offers visitors, teachers, and students is a pretty nifty "Passport to Knowledge" card that on-site visitors can insert into kiosks strategically placed throughout the Jefferson Building. These kiosks have large, angled, interactive touch screens visitors can use to view to learn about the particular room they are standing in. While doing so, the kiosk allows the viewer to save visual items of interest into a personalized collection of their Passport to Knowledge card for future viewing online after leaving the building. I took time to select a few items to build a starter collection, then returned home to continue the exploration and discovery.

Passport to Knowledge does more than building a personal collection of interesting items, however. It also links to other internal LoC and external websites to help facilitate an even greater learning experience about physical items, historical events, literature, people, and a myriad of other interesting topics. And as a value-added teaching tool, it even offers a "Knowledge Quest" online interactive game to test your knowledge on 20 themes, then suggests discussion questions and additional sources for gaining further insights into the topics. I found it to be an engaging, entertaining, and educational tool that keeps me coming back to explore more of its diverse and extensive range of topics.

If you're not familiar with the Library of Congress, I've found a really terrific overview of the most impressive and fascinating aspects of what the Library of Congress is and does. The link below will take you to a Library of Congress web page, and about half way down the page on the right side is a video "About the Library of Congress" which I highly recommend if you want to feel the power of what a library can do, be, and aspire to as an organization that serves the greater public. Unfortunately, as of June 2014 the link changed and I'm unable to locate where it might have moved to, but offer a new link which does a fairly good job of providing an overview of part of the LoC endeavours: