Washington DC’s Library of Congress is the world’s largest library and keeper of the nation’s most important historical documents. It houses more than 160 million items, including maps, manuscripts, films, and prints. Its more than 30 million books line miles of bookshelves in three different buildings—and many are not on public display.
Impressive, stained glass windows and sculptures in the Great Hall of the Thomas Jefferson Building welcome you to the Library of Congress. It is a working research library, and you can view historical documents and books in any of the 22 reading rooms. Guided tours can help you navigate the massive collection, and you can tailor them to specific points of interest or simply to get a varied overview of the collection. Alternatively, visit the Jefferson Building independently and enjoy its stained glass ceiling, marble columns, mosaics, and paintings.
The library is included on many guided sightseeing tours of DC, and is in close proximity to other attractions on and near the National Mall. Hop-on hop-off bus and trolley tours let you see many monuments in less time, and can help make the vast scale and number of sights in the capital more manageable.
Thing to Know Before You Go
- The Library of Congress is a must for history and literature buffs.
- Visitors aged 18 or older with a valid ID can use the library.
- As a research library, documents are available for visitors to look at within the library but may not be checked out.
- The Jefferson Building’s visitors center has a multimedia information kiosk.
- Washington DC has extreme seasons and weather. Check the forecast and dress accordingly.
- All library buildings are accessible to wheelchairs and strollers. Resources and services such as sign-language interpretations and touch tours are available; inquire in advance or upon arrival.
How to Get There
The Library of Congress is located on Independence Avenue, just east of the Capitol, next to the Supreme Court building. The nearest metro station is Capitol South, and the library is also easily accessible by bus and on foot from many major DC attractions.
When to Go
The Thomas Jefferson Building is open from 8:30am to 4:30pm Monday through Saturday; hours at the James Madison Memorial and John Adams buildings are typically from 8:30am to 9:30pm Monday through Saturday but vary daily. All buildings are closed on Sundays, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Day. The Madison Building hosts occasional concerts and film screenings. Check the LOC website for up-to-date information on events and opening hours.
National Digital Library
The Library of Congress offers an online service that gives participants access to thousands of documents, maps, musical scores, photographs, and texts of famous speeches. Desks in the Jefferson Building’s Main Reading Room are wired for laptops, where you can peruse the vast digital archive on your own computer.