- The Washington Times - Saturday, December 16, 2006

Hundreds of visitors from across the country and around the world gather each week at the Library of Congress to see the towering marble walls, stained-glass ceiling and gold trimmings that showcase one of the nation’s oldest federal cultural institutions — and, of course, they delve into the information stored inside.

“It’s an impressive building,” says Dominik Uram, visiting the library with his family before their return to Poland.

The Library of Congress has grown to become the largest library in the world, but it is home to much more than just books. “The collections include more than 29 million books and other printed materials, 2.7 million recordings, 12 million photographs, 4.8 million maps, and 58 million manuscripts,” according to the library’s Web site (www.loc.gov).

One of the library’s best-kept secrets? It contains the world’s largest repository of traditional chants, music and language.

The Library of Congress resides in several buildings: the main Thomas Jefferson Building, the John Adams Building and the James Madison Memorial Building. The Jefferson Building was built in 1897, before the others, to house the Library of Congress, which had been accumulating in the U.S. Capitol since 1800.

For some visitors, the Jefferson Building definitely is the highlight.

“Some people say it’s the most beautiful building in the country,” says Guilia Adelfio, chief of the Visitors Service Office at the library. When the Jefferson Building was built, “we were just figuring out our cultural personality,” she says.

The library’s significance is in showing how important education is to a successful democracy, Ms. Adelfio says.

Nestled in the southeastern corner on the street-level floor of the Jefferson Building is a room called the Folklife Reading Room.

This room is a part of a project called the American Folklife Center, which was born out of a 1976 act of Congress “to preserve and present American folklife.”

The room has three glass listening booths with multimedia avenues to hear or view the various recordings and collections that are part of the American Folklife Center.

Filing cabinets, bookshelves and walls display various folk art, from duck decoys, which hunters originally placed in the water to attract ducks, to woven baskets made by Indian women.

Visitors are welcome to explore the room, says Michael Taft, head of the Archive of Folk Culture, but the library’s “material is not on the shelves; it’s all in vaults.”

They may ask to view or hear something, and one of the staffers at the reference desk will retrieve the item, or a copy of it, from a vault in the actual repository.

The collection, more than 1.5 million items, contains the earli-est-known field recording, dating to 1890 with music and voices from the Passamaquoddy Indians of Maine.

Field recordings are basically audio documentaries of culture that are gathered on-site and may not be available to the public otherwise.

Prominent recordings include such names as jazz pianist Ferdinand “Jelly Roll” Morton, in which Mr. Morton came to the library to talk and perform.

“These aren’t commercial recordings,” Mr. Taft says as he notes that the recordings are “not simply music,” but also the context behind the music.

The center is five years into a project to record the history of war veterans, starting with World War I and going up to the present war in Iraq.

Those who would like to contribute can visit the library’s Web site for more information or call the library’s Veterans History Project at 202/707-4916.

WHEN YOU GO:

Location: The Library of Congress is at 101 Independence Ave. SE.

Directions: The library is a block away from the Capitol and across the street from the Supreme Court. The nearest Metro station, Capitol South, is across from the library’s James Madison Memorial Building, and public transportation is recommended during business hours because of limited parking options. First-time visitors should enter via the carriage entrance on First Street.

Hours: Each library building has its own hours. The main building, the Thomas Jefferson Building, is open every day except Sunday. Its hours are from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., but the Folklife Reading Room is only open Monday through Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Admission: Free

Food: A cafeteria and coffee shop are located in the James Madison Memorial Building, in addition to a vending machine. There is a coffee shop in the John Adams Building. Click on www.loc.gov for the various times each day.

Parking: Two-hour street-parking zones, metered parking and commercial parking lots may be available.

Information: 202/707-8000 or www.loc.gov/visit/

Miscellaneous:

• Visitors to the Folklife Reading Room must first get a user card from the reader registration station in the Madison Building. Photo ID and proof of address are required.

• Visitors to the library, in general, should stop by the visitors center inside the west front entrance of the Jefferson Building. The entrance is open to the public from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday.

• The building is handicapped-accessible and has a variety of services available for the deaf and blind. Call in advance for an interpreter or for other special services.

• Call in advance for reserved or constituent tours, which may be scheduled Monday through Friday.

• All other public tours are offered constantly, Monday through Saturday, at 10:30 and 11:30 a.m. and at 1:30 and 2:30 p.m. Tours are offered at 3:30 p.m. Monday through Friday. Tours last about 45 minutes and begin in the ground-floor visitors center.

• Scheduled visitors should arrive 15 minutes before the tour begins to get through security in time.

• For more information about the Veterans History Project, call 202/707-4916.

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