Thursday, September 8, 2016

Researching at the Library of Congress

I had always wanted to go on the other side - the nontourist side - of the Library of Congress to research.  On a Saturday afternoon in July I parked my rental car in a great (well, not really, more about that later) spot behind the Madison Building.  The library is housed in more than one building so go online to check out their holdings and where they are located before you visit.
Although the purpose of the library is to be used by Congress, adult researchers may access the holdings by obtaining a Reader Card.  You can complete most of the information online ahead of your trip to save time - just follow this Pre Register link.
Be forwarned that children may not obtain entry to the holdings.  A high school student might but there is a process involved so make sure you follow the directions and have secured the necessary paperwork.  Gotta love the government!
After going through security I was directed to the left hallway by the guards to obtain my reader's card.  I presented my driver's license but a passport will also work.  The bored clerk at the desk checked that I had pre-registered and directed me to sit around the corner.  There were three individuals ahead of me.  Shortly, I was called by another bored employee who had earbuds in and was watching a video on her phone.  She directed me, with no eye contact, to sit in her area so a quick photo could be taken.  My card was ready quickly and I was on my way.
I originally had two goals - visit the genealogy section to just "read" the shelves and find a rare book written by a family member.  My plans changed, however, after visiting Pennsylvania as I found a copy of the "rare" book just sitting on a library shelf.  Funny how one repository considers something rare and unique and another does not.
The genealogy section is housed in the Jefferson Building which is across the street from the Madison Building.  Researchers enter below the tourist entrance.  After once again going through security and having to show my Reader's Card I was directed to the coat room where I checked my belongings.  I took only my plastic Baggie and Kindle.  I was then directed down a long winding hallway and eventually reached the elevator.  I was headed to the humanities area and once I arrived, I had to display my Reader's Card to another guard and sign in.  The guard displayed an attitude as if I was bothering her - I guess I had disturbed her from reading.  I entered a mid sized room and asked the Librarian where I might find the genealogy section.  His response, "The genealogist isn't here today."  I told him that was fine, I didn't need to consult with a genealogist.  I just needed direction to where the materials were housed.  He told me to follow him and we entered the gorgeous reading room and veered to the right.
The genealogy section was hidden behind a door and looked like nothing had been added in years.  Down a rickety plywood ramp the Librarian kindly asked what particular area I was researching.  I told him I had several - Florida, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana and New Jersey.  He wasn't familiar with the layout and began to search the shelves.  I told him I would be fine so he left.
I wasn't expecting much so I wasn't disappointed.  It was everything I had previously read about the genealogy holdings.  I confirmed that there are many more resources in my own back yard then what was housed at the LOC.

This is one of only 2 shelves of Florida books. I'm going to keep my political opinions to myself  but am going to state that if this is where Congress goes to get info - well, it explains a lot about Congress.
I found absolutely nothing .
Since I had gone to all the trouble of getting a Readers Card and driving through downtown DC I figured I should at least spend a bit of time reading.  I left the genealogy section and wandered through the humanities section.  Found a nice book on Greek philosophy so I sat and read a chapter.  I think I must be in a zillion tourist photos.  It is very distracting trying to read when lights from cameras are going off constantly.  It was an interesting experience.  Guess I could equate it to being a fish in a fishbowl.
Maybe because it was a Saturday there weren't many Readers in the room - I counted three besides me.
Getting out of the LOC is the same as getting in.  When I left the humanities area I was directed to again go through security and sign out by the guard who had changed since I entered.  This individual was much more pleasant.  Back up the elevator, down the winding hallway and to the coat room to retrieve my belongings. Those folks in the coat room are busy and nice!  One more check through security and the walk back to the rental car.
So, about that awesome parking space - I somehow missed the sign that said I had to have a sticker permit to park where I did.  I got a parking ticket for not following directions of the sign I didn't see.  I have a long history of family members thrown out of lots of different countries (and fleeing several states) for their inability to follow directions and thus, getting into trouble.  I'm thinking that maybe, like me, it's not so much they don't follow directions as not see the directions.  Just a thought.
My husband's several times great step uncle Leonard Harbaugh had been the builder overseeing the building of Congress and the White House.  When I told my husband about the ticket he reminded me none of his family members ever drive in the city and that's why they don't get tickets.  Even so, it was a wonderful parking place and worth the ticket fine as it was close.  I would have paid more if I had found a garage. Now I'm not recommending you get a ticket if you go but all things considered, it was okay with me.
Next time I'll discuss researching at the DAR Library.

1 comment:

  1. It's been many years since I visited the Library of Congress, but I, too, remember being distinctly unimpressed with their genealogy collection.

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