WASHINGTON, D.C. – At the Library of Congress, the nation’s official research library, visitors can explore and admire the Library’s architecture, preserved documents, rare books, and intricate building designs.
Visitors come every day from around the world to visit.
While most visitors viewed the Main Reading Room on the first floor of the Library through through a clear plastic shield from the visitor second-floor gallery above, we learned how to access the books and research materials and even sit in the sanctuary of the reading room.
While many people believe the books in the Library are off-limits, the plethora of resources available in it belongs to the public, and anyone has access to them. Any visitor can request to view the library collection under specific requirements.
Marvin Mostow, a Library of Congress volunteer, explained that we could get reader cards that would give us access to the first-floor space.
“All you have to do is be sixteen,” said Mostow.
Other rules include signing in, no photography in the reading room, and no large bags allowed. While visitors can peruse materials within the Library, taking any books outside the room is not permitted.
Registering for a card is a quick and easy process. It requires filling out a form, showing identification, and getting your photograph taken.
The Library is a valuable resource for researchers and students to study or gather information for reports, projects, or personal study. The Library of Congress includes more than 167 million books, print materials, recordings, photographs, and other forms of documentation spanning about 470 languages.
Accessing the materials and resources in the Library of Congress is even easier now that many documents have become digitized.
The Library of Congress is currently digitizing all materials to promote “non-exclusivity, transparency, and preservation,” according to its website. The priority of digitizing is based on Congressional priorities and public interest.
“There is so much you can find online now,” Mostow said.
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The Library of Congress currently participates in the Federal Agencies Digitization Guidelines Initiative, an action made in 2007 by federal agencies to enhance the way they preserve and protect historical documents by digitizing them to be made accessible online.
While the Library has made progress, they still have work to do in completing the digitization of all materials.
The Library of Congress is easily accessible and offers a variety of resources. Next time you visit, you don’t need to look at the books from afar. You can get your readers card within minutes and step into the reading rooms to explore the books yourself.
Lyat Melese and Katrina Machetta are Senior Reporters with Youth Journalism International. They wrote this article.
Owen Ferguson is an Associate Editor with Youth Journalism International. He contributed the cover photo and video.