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Getting started at the Library of Congress

January 5, 2013

I recently became a registered reader at the Library of Congress, but before I went I wanted to know what I needed to do, where I needed to go and what the process was exactly. Having looked things up on many websites I had a rough idea of what to expect. I hope that this blog post of my experience getting a library card will help other people to be more confident and go and get one and get reading or researching or whatever else they want to do.

What to bring

Before you go, it is advisable to fill out the online pre-registration form, which is simple, just some basic information. You will then need to present I.D, which should have the same address as the one given on your pre-registration form. I used my passport, so this was irrelevant anyway.

I also took with me a list of a few books I wanted, and where they were and then a book to keep me company while I was waiting for my books to be delivered (they take 30-45 minutes, perhaps longer depending on where they are). You don’t need a list of books, but if you want to go into the library straight away then it will save you some time. You can look up books on the catalogue.

Where to go

This was actually quite confusing in itself, and I only ended up in the right place by chance. There are three buildings that are part of the library itself, although they are connected by tunnels underground, you really want to enter initially in the area you need. To begin with, if you are taking the metro, come out at Capitol South (on the blue/orange lines) and head towards the library, which is on Independence Avenue. From the metro you head up a small hill towards the main roads. Once on Independence Avenue you will want the building on your right, which is the Madison Building. Go in the main entrance and they will direct you from there to the membership room. You will go through an airport style security but this isn’t something that should put you off.

The Process

I approached the front desk, I managed to arrive on a day with only a couple of people, so the process was very fast. She verified my I.D and that I had filled an online registration form and gave me another form, she then directed me to a desk to fill this out. I then moved over to the photo area, I was called forward and sat down, my I.D verified and my information checked over. I then had my photo taken, my card printed and I was sent on my way, a little daunting for a new researcher. Luckily, there is another area, where a lovely woman was waiting to help people find their way depending on what subject they wanted to look at. She gave me a map and told me which building I wanted to be in. For me it was the main reading room in the Jefferson building. That was all it took, simple really!

After you have your beloved card

I looked over my map, and headed towards the Jefferson building, it was confusing, but with the help of other people I found my way through the underground tunnels. Luckily, the next time I visit, I can use the main entrance to the building I want to be in. I headed to the cloakroom for the main reading room, most reading rooms have cloakrooms, there are different rules for the different rooms, but ask at the cloakroom and they will know. For me, I had to leave my bag and coat and then take my possessions in a provided plastic bag.

I headed into the reading room, which was cold (it is winter) so wrap up. I showed my card to the security guard and asked at the desk about how to request books. The lady at the desk set me up with an online account, which means I can request books the night before I go and they will be waiting for me. You can also use call slips, which are equally as simple to do, go to the main desk in the middle of the room and fill one out, wait for about 45 minutes and then go ask for your book. Meanwhile, you can use a laptop and take personal books into the main reading room. After your book is delivered, you are all set!

I hope this has made the process of using the Library of Congress a bit easier for those who haven’t been before. It really isn’t that difficult, and the best thing is that the members of staff are just so helpful and friendly.

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