Library of Congress

This is a picture of Congress, from the library.

As loyal readers are aware I went to Yale for my graduate degree. That was fun! There were many advantages of going to Yale, but one of them, I am willing to say, was access to the Yale Library. The Yale Library has a very large collection. 15 million items it turns out. With so many items, they have an array of pleasingly obscure items, including at least one book on the lake steamers of the African Great Lakes, which, again, loyal readers are aware is a particular interest of mine. Frankly you never know what you have until it’s gone, and although the Alexandria Library is very nice, I do not think they have 15 million different items, and I can confirm that they have exactly zero books on the lake steamers of the African Great Lakes.

I know I am banging on about the lake steamers here, but I have recently restarted my effort at retyping the Chronicle of the London Missionary Society. I started to feel bad about having stopped pursuing that because I have been reading more books on southern Africa. But since I am reading about Tanganyika, etc, that has me thinking about lake steamers and the like, so that has me remembering there were several books that I wanted to look at while I was in Zambia which I couldn’t because like, I was in Zambia and very far from a library with a collection of any particular note (though Mbala did, in fact, have a library) (I am now realizing that I don’t think I ever wrote about the Tanganyika Victoria Memorial Institute!). Of the two books apparently in the whole world that discuss African Great Lakes steamers, the Yale Library, for all its vast collection, only has one of them (and as of yet will still mail it to me here in Virginia), but for the other I was lost and distraught. Lost and distraught, that is, until the internet reminded me that the Library of Congress has one and I live near the Library of Congress!

The Library of Congress, according to the pamphlet they hand out, has more than 167 million items, which is a lot more than the Alexandria Library and also more than Yale! So I wanted to go and read the book at the Library of Congress. Due to a misunderstanding of the website, I thought that you currently couldn’t do any reading at the Library of Congress, but I wanted to go anyways. My super amazing girlfriend (pictured above) had already been and would be my tour guide. So last Saturday we got on the metro and went to the famously large library.

It is very nice! I didn’t realize what it would be like. First and foremost, the Library of Congress is a place dedicated to excellent ceilings. I won’t subject you to them all, but I do like the below one with “SCIENCE” displayed in tile. I do like both mosaics and SCIENCE. Plus there is like a weird baby involved in the image and I don’t know what that is about, but presumably it is about SCIENCE. I suppose I should specify here that I am talking about the Thomas Jefferson building because the library has a number of other buildings, too.

When we went, the library had two major displays set up. In one wing, they had a whole display on early interactions with the Americas. This was based on the collection of some dude (it was quite the collection, dude) and had an impressive array of artifacts. I really was not expecting to see Mayan pottery when I walked into the museum that day. One of the most impressive items was the earliest map to denote the Americas as America. I took a picture that was just whatever, but you can find it here. The bit I looked at the most was Southern Africa which was cool and impressive and stuff.

I also really enjoyed seeing the Taino ceremonial wooden stool. That object is just so ephemeral and rare and also looks like a turtle, which is cool. Of course on a serious note it reminds us about the important and advanced cultures that existed in these places before Columbus came over and wiped them out.

On the other side of the library they had on display Thomas Jefferson’s personal library. He had sold it to Congress when their first library burned down, which was potentially a bad move for book longevity because it wouldn’t be the last time the Library of Congress burned down. Fortunately not all his books burned, and so they had a number of the originals. They also had identical copies of some of the books, more modern reprintings of some of his books, and then also some boxes to fill out the ones they couldn’t get. They had the whole thing in a spiral, and this was the first time I have been out and about with my super amazing girlfriend and said something like “we could do the living room like this” and she agreed. So I am looking forward to turning our living room into a spiral, it’s gonna be great.

The final thing to see was the Main Reading Room. Seeing people reading in the Main Reading Room is what eventually led me to discover that you could read in the Main Reading Room on Saturdays, and I hope that is something I can take advantage of soon, because like I said I want to read that book on steamships. Maybe I will read other books there too someday, who knows. A lot of people apparently do genealogy research there. Me though? I just want to look at boats.

Think of all the boat knowledge hidden away here!