Washington, D.C.'s Top 10 : Library of Congress

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The focus of this immense library – the greatest accumulation of information and images in the world – is the magnificent Jefferson Building. Its main reading room is one of the most captivating spaces in the city, gleaming with its recently refurbished decorations. Collections encompass many subjects – the law library is especially notable, as are materials and books relating to Africa, the Middle East, and the rest of the world. In addition there are collections of comic books, jazz recordings and memorabilia, photography, films, and television broadcasts.

  • 1st St, SE, between Independence Ave and E Capitol St

  • 202 707 5000


  • Open 10am–5pm Mon–Fri; tours: 10:30am, 11:30am, 1:30pm, 2:30pm, 3:30pm Sat 10:30am, 11:30am, 1:30pm, 2:30pm

  • Dis. access

  • Free

  • For advance concert tickets phone 800 551 7328 or visit

Jefferson’s Collection

The library had humble beginnings of just 3,000 books, but these were destroyed when the British burned the Capitol building, then home to the library, in 1814. Congress appropriated $23,950 to buy Thomas Jefferson’s personal library of 6,487 volumes as the core of a new collection. Another fire in 1851 destroyed many of the books. It has been a goal of the library to replace Jefferson’s books with period copies, and today only 900 are still missing.

Library of Congress Floorplan


Free standby tickets are often available for concerts, from 6:30 pm for 8pm performances and 12:30pm for 2pm performances.

For visitors wishing to use the library for research, reader cards can be obtained on the same day by applying at Room LM 401 in the Madison Building.

A Reader’s Card is required to enter the Reading Rooms and can be easily obtained in the Madison Building

Top 10 Features
  1. Exterior

    Congress authorized the construction of a new library building in the style of the Italian Renaissance in 1886. Its plan reflects that of the Capitol – two wings with a central dome. The portico contains busts of nine “great men of literature” from Demosthenes to Washington Irving.

  2. Main Reading Room

    In this splendid room the civilized arts are represented by allegorical figures atop its eight giant columns: Religion, History, Commerce, Art, Philosophy, Poetry, Law, and Science.

  3. Great Hall

    The ceiling, resplendent with stained-glass skylights, soars 75 ft (20 m) above the beautiful marble floor. Ceremonial staircases at either end of the hall are elaborately carved with scenes of cherubs engaged in making music, catching butterflies, and using the newly invented telephone.

  4. Gutenberg Bible

    This superb example of the first book printed with movable type is one of only three perfect vellum copies to survive. Also here is the handwritten Giant Bible of Mainz.

  5. Creating the United States

    Explore the creative process through which the nation was born. Innovative technology reveals how drafts of the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights were forged out of invention, insight, collaboration, and compromise.

  6. African and Middle Eastern Reading Room

    This long room, for research work on this ancient geographical area, is one of 10 that give users access to the special collections.

  7. Mosaic of Minerva

    A beautiful marble mosaic of Minerva overlooks the staircase near the Visitors’ Gallery.

  8. Concert Series

    This distinguished series presents a range of performances: classical song, harp­sichord, solo, trio, and quartet programs, period instrument ensembles, jazz, spirituals, and gospel. Concerts are free.

  9. Film Series

    Classic films are shown in an intimate setting several times a week. Miniseries on subjects such as jazz or Russian cinema run concurrently with the main series.

  10. Neptune Fountain

    Roland Hinton Perry sculpted this dashing tribute to the god Neptune and his court, installed in 1898 in front of the Jefferson Building.

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