My Research at the Library of Congress 

LIBRARY OF CONGRESSMy current WIP is complicated. It delves into the life of earliest man with all of its threats and dangers, as well as the inventions of those big brain ideas that changed the world (like stone tools and fire). I’ve read everything available on the topic from my local libraries and online. The big resource I hadn’t yet plumbed was the US Library of Congress. It is the largest library in the world, with more than 162 million items on approximately 838 miles of bookshelves. The collections include more than 38 million books and other print materials, 3.6 million recordings, 14 million photographs, 5.5 million maps, and 70 million manuscripts.  It’s had only 13 Librarians of Congress, the current one in that position for almost thirty years. In my case, I sought answers to questions like how did man discover music. How did s/he first organize a system of law? Who was the first person who thought, “I have free time not required to hunt and sleep. I think I’ll draw a picture.”

This is the sort of stuff that keeps me awake at night.

Many of the books are not digitized and none of them can be checked out (by non-Congressional folk) so in my recent trip to visit my daughter in DC, I spent a glorious day researching in this amazing building. You can tour the library as a visitor (which I did on a previous trip) but to use the books requires a library card. They’re easy to get, though you must go to a hidden room down a long hallway in a completely separate building. Once I found the right door, it took only about ten minutes to take my picture, input my data, and print the card.

Before going to the library, I went to the LoC website and ordered the books I wanted with a note informing them of my arrival date. The library staff collected my books and had them ready in the reading room I requested (there are about eight–I think).

When I arrived at 8:30 am, I received a rundown of the rules for using the reading rooms. No purses (though I could fill my pockets with whatever from my purse). No food or drinks, though there was a drinking fountain outside the reading room. The reading rooms aren’t easily accessible. You can see them on the library tour, but to enter them requires a circuitous trip down a yellow hall, up an elevator, and through a guard who makes sure you are approved for entry.

When I finally found the room and checked in with the librarian, he had a rolling shelf full of books awaiting me. Because I wanted to spread them out and compare books over an extended period, they gave me a private area with a long table-like desk with the shelves within reach of my work space.

And there I worked for eight hours. From 8:30 when the library opened to 5 when it closed along with a wonderful collection of cerebral fellow researchers. No one talked. No one varied from their task of consuming knowledge.  The books I’d selected were amazing. None of them were available in my local libraries, some being original work from the early 1800s when we still had tribes living independent of modern society. When I got stuck, a helpful librarian found the right book for me (in one case, it was on the origins of counting) and had it delivered to my room. When I finished, I had to walk through an airport scanner to be sure I didn’t take anything I shouldn’t. When my daughter picked me up in the front of the building, I couldn’t stop grinning with the sheer fun of uncovering the answers.

What have you done lately that blew you away?

More on research:

5 Reasons I love Research

How to Virtually Visit a Location You Can’t Drop In On

How to describe …


Jacqui Murray is the author of the popular Building a Midshipman, the story of her daughter’s journey from high school to United States Naval Academy, and the thriller, To Hunt a Sub. She is also the author/editor of over a hundred books on integrating tech into education, adjunct professor of technology in education, webmaster for four blogs, an Amazon Vine Voice book reviewer,  a columnist for TeachHUB, monthly contributor to Today’s Author and a freelance journalist on tech ed topics. You can find her books at her publisher’s website, Structured Learning.

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13 thoughts on “My Research at the Library of Congress 

  1. That’s great. I’d love to have a day there to read.

  2. Ohhh .. sigh .. how glorious. 838 miles of shelving!!! Blow shopping for shoes .. I’m going to visit our national library today instead.

  3. What a great post. I could feel your excitement the whole time i was reading it. Now I need to come up with something for which I need to do research that can only be done at the Library of Congress!

    • I admit, I did enjoy that trip way too much. I had lunch with some of Meaghan’s friends and wanted to tell them all about the library and its books and shelves and quiet comfort, but they really didn’t seem to get it. So I shut up!

  4. Wow Jackie! That’s a lot of research. I’ve only done this for two of my books (The Everything Theory – about ancient technology) and (The Eleventh Question – about the questions asked since the beginning of time, Who am I, Why am I here, etc). It’s a lot of work but really worth it. And you learn SO MUCH along the way! It’s kind of like studying for a masters degree. Best of luck with the story! 😀

  5. Whoa whoa whoa!! Mind blown. That sounds like the coolest day ever. I didn’t realize you could be so organized about it, request books (why not) and have a big table of your own to feast on knowledge. Like Thanksgiving on books, no food coma and your pants still fit, only the brain gets bigger! This is on my bucket list!!

    • This was my first time, so had no idea what to expect. I thought I’d sit at the slanted desks, all in a row, and collect a few books at a time, but the librarian figured I’d want to spread out so gave me a room. Any votes on funding the Library of Congress–I vote Yes.

  6. What an incredible experience, Jacqui! I am so envious of having a day at The Library of Congress. You went about this with so much advance preparation, it’s no wonder you got so much out of it. I love your sentence about not needing to hunt or sleep, think I’ll draw. Yep, that would be me. Someday maybe I’ll sit at one of those tables, my chosen books spread before me, researching. This library belongs to us. What a truly American experience.

    • On top of pretty much everything amazing, I couldn’t believe I could read books that were almost 200 years old. They were research books, but plain-spoken, not like current research that’s five-syllable words everywhere. More like Margaret Meade–for the people. I couldn’t get enough of it.

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