The Washington Post

On Presidents’ Day, a rare peek into the heart of the Library of Congress

The Main Reading Room of the Library of Congress will be open to the public on Feb. 18. (Michael Dersin/Library of Congress) The Main Reading Room of the Library of Congress will be open to the public on Feb. 18. (Michael Dersin/Library of Congress)

Visitors to the Library of Congress usually can't enter the Main Reading Room. Instead, after touring the spectacular Great Hall in the Jefferson Building, they're only allowed to quietly peer down at the scholars from a little opening high off the floor.

But twice a year, the Main Reading Room welcomes anybody -- even if they want to talk above a whisper. This Presidents' Day, Feb. 18, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., is one of those special opportunities to enter the heart of the world's largest library. Feel free to bring your camera -- but no tripods allowed. The Library encourages you to upload your photos to Flickr with the tag LCspringopen13.

Visitors will also have a rare opportunity to see Abraham Lincoln's handwritten draft of the Emancipation Proclamation, which hasn't been exhibited since 2009. President Lincoln's first inaugural address and the Bible that he (and President Obama) used to take the oath of office are on display as part of the Library's ongoing "Civil War in America" exhibit. This will be your last chance to see these national treasures before they're returned to storage again for who knows how long. (The Civil War exhibit itself will continue through June 1.)

Reference librarians will be on hand to explain the library’s various collections and demonstrate its online tools. (Real scholars take note: Usual reference services will not be available on Presidents Day.)

The Library of Congress is located at 10 First St. SE. The closest Metro stop is Capitol South (Orange/Blue). Entrance is free. For more information about exhibitions and tours go to or call (202) 707-8000.

Ron Charles is the editor of The Washington Post's Book World. For a dozen years, he enjoyed teaching American literature and critical theory in the Midwest, but finally switched to journalism when he realized that if he graded one more paper, he'd go crazy.



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