Nerding (and Geeking) Out at the Library of Congress

Though I had lived in Maryland for a couple of years and visited most of the museums in the Smithsonian complex, I have never actually visited the Library of Congress. Yesterday, I decided to take advantage of the relatively nice weather to remedy that situation. While I knew that the Library of Congress has a strong online presence, I didn’t know that it was utilizing interactive technology in order to make their collections and exhibits much more accessible to all library visitors.
One of the first things that visitors see (aside from the security) is the information desk with an interactive display that shows users where all of the major exhibits are. Users can pick up a “passport” and then register it by putting the end with the bar code into the reader and then registering (or not–I accidentally added another item into my digital dossier by registering). Users are also given the option of then adding to their “collections” via the internet.

(I apologize for the quality of the images and videos.  It’s hard to take pictures and record video when one is technically not supposed to be doing either.)

If you’ve never been to the Library of Congress, it’s a good idea to see what is on exhibit in order to have a plan.  I was at the Thomas Jefferson Building and, compared to one of the Smithsonian museums, it’s not actually that large, so it’s not hard to see the exhibits in one day.

As per the Library of Congress’ posted requests to refrain from photography, I did not take any pictures or videos of the exhibits, but I do have some artifacts of the technology.  Of all the exhibits and interactive displays, the two that really stood out for me were in the Creating the United States and Exploring the Early Americas exhibits.

Creating the United States

The interactive display has a lot of movement, which attracts any user who is standing near it.  The simplicity of use combined with minimal instructions makes this a very user-friendly experience.

This display shows the Declaration of Independence as it was originally written.  However, due to handwriting, age of paper, deterioration of the ink, and copying to a digital format, it is difficult to make out the actual text.  Because this is incomprehensible, it is boring for the average visitor and/or student on a field trip.  What is the Library of Congress to do?

Why, translate it, of course!

Using the touch screen interface, users can choose one of the pre-selected sections (these are highlighted) and read the original words, along with any revisions and cuts that did not make it in the final draft.  This “translation” makes the document more accessible to any user who is interested in this display.

Thoma Jefferson’s personal library is also on display in the same wing, but I didn’t take any pictures because I a.) wanted to respect the wishes of the staff and b.) there were too many people around.  I was impressed by the breadth and depth of his collection and I was struck by just how much an individual’s personal library can tell you about the individual.  Viewing his collection reminded me of something President Kennedy said at a speech honoring Nobel Prize winners, “I think this is the most extraordinary collection of talent, of human knowledge, that has ever been gathered together at the White House, with the possible exception of when Thomas Jefferson dined alone.”

Exploring Early America

The history of early America is no doubt very exciting and interesting.  This is due, no doubt, to the total awesomeness of the pirates who roamed the Spanish Main, with or without official letters of marque.  One of the interactive displays is a digital copy of a Danish (?) text, a veritable who’s who of American piracy.

The layout of the display is almost similar to that of an e-reader in that the pages can be flipped, albeit by touching the next arrow.  The “toolbar” on the right-hand side displays all the options that are available, including a translation feature that translates from Dutch (?) to English.

I regret that I didn’t take any pictures of the gorgeous architecture inside the building.  However, I made up for my oversight by taking a picture of beautiful mosaic of Minerva, the Roman Goddess of Wisdom (and my favorite of all ancient goddesses).

If you’re ever in the DC area and have a few hours, I highly recommend making a stop at the Library of Congress.  It’s not just something that librarians and library students can enjoy, but the stunning architecture, the wonderful exhibits and displays make the Thomas Jefferson Building a fantastic place for anyone to visit.

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About Anna Kim

I am a school librarian with Chicago Public Schools.
This entry was posted in Library 2.0, Technology, User services and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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