I still remember my one and only visit to the Library of Congress. I was twelve years old on a school trip to Washington, D.C. and the library was just one place on a seemingly never ending list of famous landmarks we saw over the course of a weekend. I remember a big, echoing hall with huge columns going up to the ceiling and guards in the corners of the room. But there were no librarians or books to be seen. It certainly didn’t look a thing like my own home library with its welcoming children’s librarian and shelves of wonderful stories. Our tour guide told us this “library” didn’t even have any books in it, if you wanted to look at a book you had to go to a completely different building! I was not impressed. There was nothing there for someone like me.
Happily the times they are a changin’ and the Library of Congress has changed with them. The beautiful Thomas Jefferson Building that I remember from my youth now houses The Young Readers Center. Opened in October 2009, the center offers books and programming for children and teens. It’s opening marked the first time the library had extended its services specifically to young people.
Our new Librarian of Congress, Dr. Carla Hayden, is looking to expand those services with extended hours, the center is now open on Saturdays, and offers programming designed to engage children and their families. The library will also begin offering interactive guided tours specifically for families with young children and Hayden has plans to hold concerts, classes, and eventually a makerspace for children to enjoy. Hayden hopes to make the library’s impressive collection available to everyone through traveling exhibitions to give people around the country a taste of what the library has on display in its galleries.
A visit to the library’s website shows many of the same things we highlight on our own websites; community resources for families, booklists, upcoming programs, and contests for young readers. Hayden would also like to see the libraries online presence expanded by making use of the new Virtual Reality technology becoming increasingly popular in libraries so that children around the country who can’t make it to the library still have a chance to take a tour.
The library was established in 1800 and even today is considered primarily as a research facility for Congress. But now it can also be a place to help introduce young people and their families to all the amazing things a library offers. The Library of Congress has gone miles beyond the place I remember. I think it might be time to plan another visit with my children.