Saturday, February 19, 2005

Prose & Cons

I was reminded of an old joke today: "If pro is the opposite of con, what's the opposite of progress?" My first research trip to the Library of Congress today (after three years of living in the Washington area) brought that vividly to mind, as I made no progress whatsoever in my work. Now in fairness, this was not the fault of the Library (at least not entirely). I didn't leave home until past noon, and though I had prepared for the visit, I hadn't given myself enough time to both familiarize myself with the place and do my work.

If You Go . . .

The Library of Congress is in several buildings on Capitol Hill in Washington. The main building is the Thomas Jefferson building at First Street and Independence Avenue, directly across the street from the Capitol and down the block from the Supreme Court. On Saturdays, it may be possible to park along Independence Avenue, but don't count on that during weekdays, especially if Congress is in session. So it's best to arrive on foot, by cab, or by Metrorail, Washington's regional mass transit system. The Capitol South Metro station is about a block and a half away. I recommend going early in the day, but no so early you get caught in the D.C. rush hour traffic. The Library opens at 8:30 a.m. and stays open until 9:30 p.m. Mondays, Wednesdays and Thursdays. It closes at 5:00 p.m. on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. The Library is closed on Sundays and all federal holidays.

One reason to go early is that you may want to spend some time just looking around. You can do this individually or as part of a public tour. There's a virtual tour available online and an audio tour at the Library. To enter the reading rooms, however, you will need a Reader's Identification Card. Registration for the card is free and the process takes just about ten minutes if there aren't a lot of folks waiting. Note that the registration station is in the Madison building across the street from the Jefferson building. So go to Madison first. (I made the mistake of going to the Jefferson building first. I had to back through security in both buildings as a result).

Prepare before you go. Know what your research goals are. Use the Library's online catalog before your visit. Also check the Library's website to understand what can and cannot be brought into the Library. Consider taking the Library's research orientation class (one 90-minute session). Finally, if you have more than one day to spend, consider making "Overnight" requests for books to use the next day.

The Library's Local History and Genealogy room is in the Jefferson building on the ground floor. There are also some great educational exhibits and, of course, a superb gift shop. The Library also has food service available in the Madison building.

If you spend a little time in advance, then your research progress won't be stymied by Congress (the Library of . . . ).

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