March 11, 2019

The Library of Congress hopes to be and do more for the American people


According to Peggy McGlone at the Washington Post, the Library of Congress in Washington D.C. is set for a renovation that for some, might mean a shift in the institution’s goal.

Librarian of Congress Carla D. Hayden has held the position for ten years, voted in by former President Barack Obama, and is currently overseeing a renovation plan that will open the library’s doors to more than just academics. According to Hayden:

“People don’t know that the Library of Congress has something for them. We built a palace to knowledge and we wanted it to rival any palace in any European city. [But] you have to let people come in and … be inspired. That’s what it was designed for.”

With approximately $10 million appropriated by Congress for the planned makeover, which includes a total re-haul of the Thomas Jefferson Building and other adjustments that will facilitate a modern influx of tourists, Hayden hopes Congress will fund an additional $30 million, with a $20 million match from private donations in the future.

For some like Hayden, the renovation and new mission for the Library is welcomed: in a time when information is both withhold from ordinary citizens and dispelled throughout an unchecked avenue like the Internet, truth loses its meaning. Hayden hopes everyone, and not just academics, will find a home at the nation’s library, as well as much-needed inspiration.

“We want to inspire other people to become [historians], to encourage young people to be curious and be history detectives,” she said. “There’s concern about who is going to want to look through old papers and diaries? We’re trying to build the next generation.”

McGlone does give space for dissenters who worry over the possibly tarnished mission of the library, that “the library’s intellectual focus will be sacrificed to an avalanche of exhibitions and the increased foot traffic that would result. In an age when facts seem to be up for grabs and information flows quickly but often with little authority, they say, the library’s academic mission is more critical than ever.” Perhaps they assume only academics are worthy of understanding the truth.

Well, to them I say get over yourselves! Libraries are places of refuge for all who seek understanding and knowledge. And if you don’t know, go read Scott Sherman’s Patience and Fortitude.

Alex Primiani is the associate director of publicity at Melville House.