DC Local Guides · Washington DC

Ultimate Guide to the Library of Congress

I’ll give you one guess for my #1 favorite building in D.C., and quite possibly the world.

The Library of Congress! It has special meaning to me because: I love books, I got my first job here, and I love it so much I had my bridal portraits done here! So at long last, here is your ultimate guide to visiting the Library of Congress, or LOC!

Photo Credit: Lauren Bingham

Know Before You Go

Opening Times
  • Sunday: Closed
  • Monday: 8:30am-9:30pm
  • Tuesday: 9:30am-4:00pm
  • Wednesday: 8:30am-9:30pm
  • Thursday: 8:30am-9:30pm
  • Friday: 9:30am-4:00pm
  • Saturday: 9:30am-4:00pm
Security

You will have to go through security, but the Library of Congress and Capitol Buildings are connected with an underground system of tunnels, so if you go through security for one, just use the tunnels instead of going through security all over again!

Closest Metro

You have two options: the Capitol South Metro on the Blue, Orange, and Silver lines; the Union Station Metro on the Red line is also nearby!

The Compass Rose in the center of the grand lobby at the Library of Congress Jefferson Building symbolizes that we learn in every direction.

Locations

Three buildings that make up the Library of Congress:

John Adams Building
120 2nd Street SE

Why Adams? He is the president who signed the law that created a Library of Congress. This is the second oldest of the Library of Congress buildings.

Thomas Jefferson Building
10 First Street SE

This is the beautiful building. When people talk about the Library of Congress, this is the building they’re talking about. This is where Ben Gates went to do research in National Treasure!

The Library of Congress’ Gutenberg Bible
James Madison Memorial Building
101 Independence Avenue SE

This is the Law Library, the place where you can get your library card, and my first job in D.C. was located here! I say job, but it was really more of an unpaid internship, and I really, really loved it!

Getting a Library Card

It’s true! You can get a Library of Congress Library Card. The process is simpler now than the last time I got a card, so that’s pretty exciting. You must be 16 or older to get a library card, and you will have to bring a government-issued ID (must be a passport, driver’s license, or state-issued ID card) with you when you pick up your card. Here are the steps to follow:

1. Pre-register

All you need to know about the pre-registration process is on their website. You will simply read the legal statement; fill in your name, address, phone number, e-mail address, age, and whether you plan to use the library for personal-job-related research or academic research; confirm your details; and then submit!

The form you will fill out.
2. Pick Up Your Card

Bring your ID (passport, driver’s license, or state-issued ID) and head over to the Madison Building Room LM 140. That’s it!

Your only way into the Main Reading Room is with a Library of Congress Library Card!

History

There’s a lot of history to cover for a place as significant to national and world culture. There are over 103 MILLION items in the Library of Congress! But here are the highlights to pique your interest and get you started:

  • Started as a legislative library in 1800
  • Originally located in the Capitol (you can still see where it was on the Capitol Tour)
  • The British burned it (along with most of D.C.) in August 1814, during the War of 1812
  • in 1815, Jefferson sold his personal library to Congress: 6,487 books for $23,950
  • An accidental fire destroyed 35,000 books in 1850
  • The Library opened up to the general public after the Civil War; previously it was used exclusively for congressional purposes
  • The Thomas Jefferson Building (the beautiful one where you’ll take a tour) was completed in 1897

For all the details, check out the Library of Congress website!

Got my Library Card!

Tours

The Jefferson Building public tours are offered Monday-Friday on the half hours from 10:30am-3:30pm and last one hour each. Tours are offered Saturdays at 10:30am, 11:30am, 1:30pm, and 2:30pm.

On the tour you’ll learn all about the symbolism of the architecture, the frescoes on the walls, and where all the materials came from. It’s truly a global institution!

The Grandeur of the Library of Congress

For a list of all their current tours, including online tours, click here!

Ongoing Exhibits

There are several exhibits in the Library of Congress, most of which are ongoing with no end date. But that doesn’t mean you should put off a visit! Here’s a quick run-down of all ongoing exhibits:

  • Thomas Jefferson’s Library: This one is my favorite! Many of Thomas Jefferson’s books are on display. You can look at the titles and see if you’ve read any of the same books!
  • Mapping a Growing Nation: I love maps! This rare map is the first American map of the new United States ever published!
  • Hope for America: This one is all about Bob Hope! The entertainment industry has been razzing politics and politicians forever, but it got taken up a notch in the 20th century. This exhibit showcases some of the best parts of that.
  • Here to Stay: I don’t know about you, but I love musicals and old movies, and George and Ira Gershwin are two of the reasons why! The brothers wrote some of the world’s most well-known and memorable show tunes, and this exhibit highlights the very best of their legendary lives and careers!
  • Exploring Early America: This exhibit is all about Native Americans and early contact with European explorers. There’s even a map on display from 1507!
  • Herblock Gallery: You can find this one in the funny pages. It’s all about the comics! The works of cartoonist Herbert L. Block are on rotating display, meaning you should come back often to see them all!
  • Swann Gallery: And speaking of cartoons, this gallery highlights comics, graphic novels, political cartoons, and more!

Check the Library of Congress Exhibitions page for more information on the ongoing exhibits and everything you need to know about the changing exhibits!

Bob Hope’s Presidential Medal of Freedom

Special Programs

One of the most surprising things I learned while working at the Library of Congress was that they offer FREE programs to the public! Everything from musical performances to lectures, from movie showings to book talks happen here, so take a look at their calender and plan to be there for something that interests you!

Hawaiian Performance at the Library of Congress, August 2008!

Pro Tips

Avoiding Crowds

Go early, my friends! That’s how you avoid crowds in D.C. Show up a few minutes before the Library of Congress opens and be one of the first through the doors. Also, come in winter. January and February are D.C.’s low-tourist months. Things start to pick up in March and April due to cherry blossom festival-goers and 8th grade trips. May-August is high season. September-November is the shoulder season, and December picks up a bit due to Christmas festivities.

Steathy Security

There are underground tunnels connecting the Capitol Building, Libraries of Congress, and Supreme Court. Use them so that you will only have to go through security once! You will waste valuable time standing in the security line at each site, plus you’ll have to go through metal detectors and/or be searched at each location. Use the tunnels to avoid these time stealers!

Using the tunnels will also protect you from the extreme weather D.C. can experience!
Closed on Sundays

Don’t come on Sunday. Or on federal holidays. You’ll be disappointed! Hours are:

  • Sunday: Closed
  • Monday: 8:30am-9:30pm
  • Tuesday: 9:30am-4:00pm
  • Wednesday: 8:30am-9:30pm
  • Thursday: 8:30am-9:30pm
  • Friday: 9:30am-4:00pm
  • Saturday: 9:30am-4:00pm
Come at Christmas

You will definitely want to see it decorated for the season, plus it’s a great place to be on a cold day!

Library of Congress Christmas Tree
Want more? Read all about everything there is to see and do on my Washington, D.C. Page!

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