Designers also plan to cut a hole in the cement, brick and iron ceiling of the ground floor and install a 25-foot-wide glass oculus through which visitors can see the building’s ornate dome far above the first-floor reading room.
There are also plans for a snack bar, a learning lab, a new gallery for the library’s “treasures,” and a reworked entrance and exit to the 123-year-old Beaux-Arts building across from the Capitol.
Hayden said the idea is to give the library’s almost 2 million annual visitors more access to the contents of the “jewel box” that is the Jefferson Building.
She said the library has been promised $40 million from Congress for the project, and after Rubenstein’s donation, she hopes to raise the remaining $10 million from private donors.
Hayden said the library did surveys of its visitors, using such things as the travel website TripAdvisor.
Some visitors see signs for the library and say, “Oh, Library of Congress. . . . What’s that?” she said.
“They weren’t . . . aware,” she said. “We want people to be aware of what the Library of Congress is and also what it can do for them. . . . This is a way to turn those casual visitors into possible users.”
David Mandel, Hayden’s exhibits and interpretation director, said: “We need to tell the library’s history [and] story better.”
One way will be to move Jefferson’s library front and center into the new ground-floor orientation space. Jefferson sold Congress his 6,000-book library for $26,000 to replace those destroyed by the British in the War of 1812. The library, which has been updated over the years, is displayed in a corner room on the second floor. “You have to know, almost, that it’s there,” Hayden said.
Other plans call for rearranging the building exterior to make the ground floor “carriage” entrance the main entrance. The current entrance at the top of main steps would become the exit.
Improvements to internal navigation are also planned.
The view through the glass oculus will be striking, Mandel said.
“We believe that . . . [when] you look up . . . there’s going to be this incredible power and sense of wonderment about the glory of this building,” he said. “We’re trying to make an emotional connection with our visitors.”
“If you make that emotional connection . . . it will then be much easier to make an intellectual connection,” he said. “People will be surrounded by Jefferson’s books. You’ll have this incredible view up into the dome of the reading room.”
Rubenstein has been a longtime supporter of the library.
“I care about literacy a lot,” he said Wednesday. “I thought the Library of Congress should attract more people to see what books are about and what the library’s about.”
“This project will help make it easier for people to come and see the great treasures of the Library of Congress,” he said. “We call it the Library of Congress. It’s really the library of America.”
“It’s a labor of love for me,” he said. “I love reading, and I love books, and that’s it.”
In October, Rubenstein said he was donating $10 million for upgrades, new exhibit space and other improvements to the ailing Jefferson Memorial in Washington.
Rubenstein — co-founder of the Carlyle Group, a global private-equity firm based in Washington — has made numerous major history-themed donations in the past.
In 2013 and 2015, he donated a total of $20 million to Jefferson’s Monticello plantation, near Charlottesville.
In 2018, he announced a donation of $18.5 million to help fund an overhaul of the Lincoln Memorial. The project began in 2016, and the National Park Service hopes to have it finished for the memorial’s 2022 centennial.
In 2015, he pledged $5.37 million to refurbish the U.S. Marine Corps War Memorial, the 100-ton bronze sculpture of the flag-raising at Iwo Jima during World War II.
In 2014, he announced the donation of $10 million to Montpelier, President James Madison’s historic Orange, Va., home, for reconstruction, refurnishing and archaeology.
He has also donated $5 million to the White House Visitor Center; $12.3 million to Arlington House, the home of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee; and $7.5 million to help fix the Washington Monument after the 2011 earthquake.
Hayden said the work at the library should be finished by 2025.