Monday, January 11, 2010

I'm Back, but I Never Really Left

My winter sabatical is nearly over as I return to my office to order lab supplies, fill out workload and office hours schedules, prepare course syllabi, write new and rewrite old lectures etc. My first real big job is to work on a couple of presentations concerning fluid and electrolyte balance - a very complicated topic.

My annual New Year's trip to Washington, DC was another success. After living in the DC area for many years, there are still many places I've never visited or visited in a serious way. The Library of Congress is one of those places.

The LOC building itself is pretty spectacular and is located next to the Supreme Court on Capital Hill.

But it's what's inside that is really spectacular. It's probably one of the most beautiful buildings on the "Mall" and you really need a guided tour to appreciate the building's history. It's the largest library on Earth with 142 million items located on over 650 miles of shelves.

Above is a picture of the great hall (main entrance) taken from Wikipedia. The silver colored material around the ceiling is actually made of aluminum, a very difficult, expensive material to come by in those days. I have my own pictures but I haven't downloaded them off the camera yet.

The Library was destroyed by the British in 1814 but most of it's then 3000 books were replaced with over 6,000 books purchased from Thomas Jefferson. Unfortunately, another fire in 1851 destroyed about two-thirds of those books. One of the current exhibits at the LOC is the library of Thomas Jefferson which is being reconstituted either with the original books or replacement copies of the books. Some of the books will never be replaced because they are unavailable.

The reading room and the dome above it abound with architectural history.

Yes, you can actually use the library as a research library, but you must first become a registered reader. This is like applying for a library card that is good for two years.

But the primary reason I wanted to explore the LOC was to visit the exhibit on "Exploring the Early Americas". I wanted to see the first map ever drawn to use the word "America". This is the Martin Waldseemüller map of the world drawn in 1507 and given to the library by Germany.

The word "America" is printed on the continent of South America.

The LOC is a library but it is also a museum with changing exhibits. You really need to visit the library to appreciate the building and the exhibits. However, the LOC website is probably one of the most extensive and information filled sites ever published. And, don't forget...this is the Library of Congress, so you can find out what specifically is going on in Congress on a day-to-day basis using the "Thomas" portion of the website.

No comments: