The bookworm odyssey

The Library of Congress
101 Independence Ave. S.E.
2 p.m.
Nov. 12

Living in D.C. has many advantages – the museums, the White House, the history on every corner. It’s easy to impress visitors with a tour of the city, and there’s always something to do on a Friday night.

And the District has a lot to offer academically, as well – which can be a negative thing if you’re a slacker. Last semester, my paper deadlines were quickly approaching and I still hadn’t done much research. But could I complain to my professor that Gelman did not have sufficient material? No, because any student in D.C. knows what a professor’s response will be “Why didn’t you get it from the Library of Congress?” And, irritatingly enough, the professor is right. The massive library has nearly every single book ever written. Lazy students such as myself have no hope.

If I ever wanted to get this paper done, I knew I had to quit feeling sorry for myself, suck it up and make my way to Capitol Hill. I checked on the Internet that the library had my books and was open, then I embarked on what I hoped would be a quick trip. After the 20-minute Metro ride on the Blue/Orange Line to Capitol South, I walked the two blocks to the Thomas Jefferson building of the Library of Congress, where my ordeal began.

Someone important must have been visiting the building, because the main entrance was closed, and I had to walk to the library’s James Madison building. After going through metal detectors, I was told I’d have to register my laptop. To do that, I had to take the underground tunnel back over to the Thomas Jefferson building.

The tunnel was long, dark and full of people. I never thought a library could get so crowded. I made my way to the Police Operations Office, where a disgruntled officer stuck behind a desk grunted a greeting. I grunted back and showed him my computer. He didn’t look amused as he handed me a pre-signed form, which must have been laying around that office since before I was born. I blew off the dust and filled out information about my Dell. The officer then told me that I have to keep this flimsy piece of paper for the next two years and that he wouldn’t help me if I lost it.

After that, I thought I was ready. I made my way up two floors to the main reading room. Of course, I couldn’t be admitted just yet. Another disgruntled guard in front of the main reading room ordered me to go down one floor to the cloak room to check my bag. I gritted my teeth and wondered how I’d ever find my way down there, as the building is just a giant labyrinth. But luckily I hopped on the right elevator and found the cloak room. The attendant asked me every possible question about why I was there – “there” being the library, the District, the planet. He even asked for my phone number, so I politely gave him the number to GW’s information line and told him to call any time.

Compared to my new admirer, research was a welcome diversion. With my computer under one arm and a sheaf of papers under the other, I finally entered the main reading room. I looked up a few books, filled out the call slips to request them and settled myself at a desk. I thought I had finally beaten the system and was actually excited to start my work as I sauntered up to the main desk to request my four books, only to discover that my reading card had expired and no books could be given to me.

Once again, I had to push my way through the underground tunnel and back to the Madison building to renew my card. I sat down with Dora the registration lady and she quickly pressed a button and said, “See you in two years!” The whole process took less time than it took for me to walk over there.

My third trip through the tunnel and an hour later, I was finally ready to research. I set my stuff back down on desk No. 8, dropped off my book call slips and sat down with a sigh. As I plugged my computer in under the desk, I glanced up and audibly gasped (yes, someone shushed me). The rotunda ceiling is incredible. Bronze statues surround the circular room, and they all seem to point upward to the dome. I couldn’t stop staring. Even in a quiet room, surrounded by books, it was hard to remember I was in a library and not a museum.

Half an hour after ordering my books and almost two hours since my initial arrival, my four books were delivered to my desk with a smile. I quickly breezed through the books, wrote some notes and decided my visit was over. I returned my books to the front desk, packed up my stuff, took the stairs down to the cloak room and hurried out of the library before anything else could go wrong. Walking home, I thought about how lucky I am that Gelman doesn’t have as many rules as the Library of Congress – but the sixth-floor ceiling has nothing on the main reading room.

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