I am missing Salt Lake City this week – it’s where I’ve been in January the last two years – enjoying classroom learning and the wealth of the Family History Library. But I’ll be OK – a geographically fortunate researcher, I visited the Library of Congress in Washington, DC, last week, after a lengthy absence. So lengthy that my researcher card had expired….and I had forgotten everything I knew about negotiating the three-building campus.Even though I have a degree in library science, visiting an unfamiliar repository is intimidating. During my ProGen (online) Study Group, I admitted as much during an online chat with our esteemed Kentucky-Tennessee “Who Do You Think You Are?” star-researcher-who-has-a-fan-club-complete-with-t-shirts mentor, and while I won’t mention his name, he said it was the same for him. Nice to know. My goals for Friday were modest. Get the Metro stop right, get the researcher card, get oriented to the regulations, and then whatever I could examine from my LOC file folder to-do-catalog-printouts would be icing on the cake.
Upshot of the day: Walk in prepared with everything you can learn online and then humbly ask questions of everyone you meet. You cannot fail to have a positive experience. After consulting with (the optional) guidance provided at the registration room, and reference librarians down the hall at my first stop, I boldly headed to the Main Reading Room in the Jefferson Building to submit request slips for the bulk of my list. I had walked through the room but never before sat down there.
I was told it would take about an hour to get my materials. I was OK with that (see picture above and see below).But interesting (and good) news followed. Did I know that I could have requested materials online before appearing and received updates on when materials were available? I DID NOT KNOW THAT!! That’s new since 2009. I was way behind the times. So during that hour? I browsed the reference section just outside the Main Reading room, found a copy of Evidence Explained by Elizabeth Shown Mills, and carried it to Desk #20. “They” say we should all read the first two chapters multiple times. What better way to use an unexpected hour? I managed to look up at the dome only every few sections or so…but covertly…wouldn’t want to look like total tourist….
It’s not all formal and hush-hush – I engaged in football analysis with a circulation staff person in a lab coat decorated with Redskins logos on one side and Steelers logos on the other. I couldn’t stop myself from blurting, “Are you a tortured person?” We discussed the upcoming games and conferred on our preferences.
And, yes, I was able to see three of the four things I requested…..and the materials answered several questions, and raised even more. The usual!
The Library of Congress – I’ll be more of a regular now. And if you have anything on your research list only available there, let me know, and I will be happy to peruse your request (for a modest fee) in the most beautiful research room I’ve ever had the honor of visiting.
NOTE: Both photographs are part of the Carol M. Highsmith Archive Collection at LOC.