November 9, 2017

An Adventure to the Library

By Matt Kuhn

One of the many benefits to an externship on The Hill is just being in Washington, DC. Now, I’ve visited most of the museums and art galleries in previous trips to Washington, and I’ve seen all of the monuments on the National Mall innumerable times, so one of my main personal goals for this trip was to get on to the floor of the main reading room of the Library of Congress.

Yes, I know, you’re probably thinking “well that doesn’t sound fun at all.” Well, I’m a history buff and a bit of a bookworm, so for me, the Library of Congress, the world’s largest library, is my nerdy Disneyland. The last time I visited DC, I finally made it a point to visit the library. The entrance itself is mesmerizing. A large hall completely covered with tile mosaic and a ceiling that could have come from Rome. And while there are exhibits with artwork and literature that flank this gallery, the real draw is the main reading room. Members of the general public are not allowed to go into the main reading room; rather, they can look down into it from a balcony through a pane of glass. As I stood there staring into one of the most beautiful rooms I had ever seen, I knew, I had to find a way to get down there.

When I arrived this Fall, it was then my mission to figure out how I could get access to that room. It took a little bit of looking around on the internet for instructions, but eventually, I had my library card, and I was on my way to the library. I had chosen the book “Every Man a Cattle Doctor,” written in 1815, to be my chosen book to read while there. Books at the Library of Congress are ‘checked out’ but may not leave the reading room to which they are assigned. I entered the library via an underground tunnel from a building across the street so as to skip the line to get in, which made the whole ordeal feel very National Treasure-esque. I should say that anyone can do this; all of the buildings of the library, as well as the supreme court, capitol, house, and senate buildings, are all connected via tunnels, some of which the public can use.

The main reading room was magical. A circular room surrounded by books with a high rising rotunda painted with figures representing countries that most significantly contributed to western civilization. I could never do it justice with my written word, but being able to sit in there and just read for a little while was an experience I’ll never forget. The book I had chosen only added to my excitement. Reading about veterinary medicine from the early 1800’s was quite humbling. Almost every ailment could be solved with bleeding away 3-6 quarts of blood and giving the cow a home-made tonic of various herbs and spices.

This little jaunt was a fantastic way to spend an afternoon in DC and one that I won’t soon forget. It was an experience that very few have had and I feel very fortunate to have been able to take advantage of. I would urge anyone considering this externship to get on to the reading room floor or seek out experiences that one can only have while in DC for a lengthy period of time. They may take a little bit of preparation but the payout is unforgettable.