Hidden Hangouts: The Jefferson Building At The Library of Congress 

Fourth Estate/Leigh Norman

The Jefferson Building is a sight to behold


At the Library of Congress – Thomas Jefferson Building, the lives of many, including suffragists like Susan B. Anthony and musical icons like the Gershwin brothers, live on.

Named after Thomas Jefferson, the building is one of three buildings that make up the Library of Congress. The other two, Madison and Adams, are also free and open to the public, and feature reading rooms and cafes. But, if you want a feast for the eyes, the Jefferson Building is your destination. 

Once you step out of the Capitol South metro stop, the outside of the Jefferson Building seems like the rest of D.C. Grey, imposing with too many stairs. Weekdays are calm, while on the weekends you might spend as long as 30 minutes in line.

However, the wait is well worth it. Watch the grey exterior fade away when you enter the Jefferson Building’s Great Hall. Seeing it is reason enough to visit: marble staircases, towering columns, stained glass, the history of the world painted on the ceiling. Park yourself next to a cherub statue and stare for a while. 

The Great Hall is surrounded by several exhibits. Some have been there for years, like Thomas Jefferson’s original library and the political satire exhibit. Others are newer, like Walt Whitman’s original drafts and the “Shall Not Be Denied: Women Fight for the Vote” display. There are three floors to explore, and all have something new to discover. 

Fourth Estate/Leigh Norman

The Library of Congress stays true to its name —from the American Folklife Center to the Young Readers Center — there are plenty of books to choose from. To check out materials, you simply need to get a Library of Congress library card. 

Should you want to do some inquiry, check out the reading rooms. They’re a researcher’s paradise. Look at the first pop-up book in the Rare Books and Special Collections Reading Room, or read ancient poetry in the Asian Reading Room. For handling special materials like maps, diaries and sketchbooks, you need to attend an orientation that happens on specific days. You can also schedule an individual consultation. 

Not all the historical items you can interact with are dusty journals and papers. Rosa Parks’ featherlite pancake recipe is available. You can also find board games from the 1930s. All the subject librarians and desk attendants are eager to assist you.

The Jefferson Building is a day-long experience. Tours are available in Spanish, French and English. Tours for visually impaired visitors are also offered. Grab a coffee in the tunnel cafe, then attend a concert in the Coolidge Auditorium or pop by the political cartoon display. Live the lives of Bob Hope and Alice Paul as you view their exhibits. 

Spend the day reliving the history of the nation. The Jefferson Building is well-equipped for you to just check out a book, settle in a chair and enjoy your day.