By AUDREY FISCHER
In the fall of 2007, 10 years after the Library's magnificently renovated and restored Thomas Jefferson Building was reopened to the public, the nation's library will provide visitors with a bold new way to experience the grandeur of the building and the unparalleled resources housed within.
With a theme of "Bringing Knowledge into Life," the New Visitors Experience will capitalize on and coincide with the opening of the Capitol Visitor Center and the tunnel connecting the Capitol with the Thomas Jefferson Building. The anticipated increase in visitors—from 2 million to 3 million more annually—as a result of this passageway has prompted the Library to design what it hopes will be the top tourist attraction for those coming to the nation's capital from around the world. Using interactive technologies, the Library will guide visitors through the breathtaking interior spaces of the Jefferson Building—a symbol of national pride since its dedication in 1897.
"The New Visitors Experience is an opportunity to celebrate the continued coming-out party for the Jefferson Building," said Librarian of Congress James H. Billington, who recently unveiled plans for the new initiative to the Library's staff, and to members of the House Administration Committee at a July 27 testimony on "The Library of the 21st Century."
"We are grateful to Congress for their longstanding support, both for restoring so magnificently the Jefferson Building and for now reconnecting it physically and intellectually with the Capitol, where the Library was originally housed," said Billington. "The new program will focus on bringing knowledge into life for a new audience—and will complement the exhibits in the Capitol Visitor Center by celebrating the Congress's unique historic role in preserving the creativity of the American people within the legislative branch of government."
The new audience is expected to be tourists, teachers, students and other members of the general public, who will join the Library's traditional users—scholars and researchers—in learning more about what the Library has to offer.
At a cost of $20 million to $25 million, the New Visitors Experience will be funded privately and will not require any major reconstruction of the Jefferson Building. To date, approximately half of the required funding has been raised through private donations.
"This is a chance for corporate America to give something back to the American people," said Jo Ann Jenkins, the Library's chief of staff, who is directing the NVE planning committee. "There is no better brand to be associated with than 'The Library of Congress.'"
As visitors begin their "journey" through the Jefferson Building, they will be greeted by newly designed information stations welcoming them to start their exploration of knowledge. They will receive a "Passport to Knowledge" and a unique "library card" to save their personal, Library-generated Web page (MyLOC.gov). In the Orientation Galleries, knowledgeable docents will assist visitors with their use of interactive technology, and they can access multilingual information at touch-screen interactive stations designed to capture the liveliness and value of the Library's collections.
"More docents will be needed," said Giulia Adelfio, head of the Library's Visitor Services Office, who announced plans for more docent training. The Library's staff will also be encouraged to take the training and volunteer their services.
As visitors leave the Orientation Galleries, they will be able to navigate the magnificent spaces of the Great Hall and mezzanine, using hand-held devices and interactive kiosks.
"I often hear people gasp as they enter the building for the first time, no matter what age they are or where they are from," said Ford Peatross, the Library's curator of architecture, design and engineering collections in the Prints and Photographs Division.
Visitors will also be directed to a series of special galleries:
- The Early Americas: The Jay Kislak Collection will explore the culture and history of the early Americas from the time of the indigenous people of Mexico, Centeral America and the Caribbean through the period of European contact. This gallery will feature the Waldseemüller map (1507), the first to use the word "America."
- Creating the United States will showcase the depth and breadth of the Library's collections that pertain to the founding of the American Republic and other epochs in the American past such as the Civil War, women's suffrage and settlement of the American West.
- The Thomas Jefferson Collection will explore the nucleus of the Library of Congress collection. Visitors will review one of the nation's most treasured libraries, viewing more than 2,400 surviving volumes from the original Jefferson Collection, as well as editions identical to those in the original collection acquired by the Library from Jefferson to replace those lost in the fire of 1851. Visitors will be able to "turn" (virtually) the pages of some of the volumes and read Jefferson's handwritten annotations and leaf through newspapers and maps owned by Jefferson. Visitors will be encouraged to take away a list of the missing volumes to assist the Library in its worldwide search that began in 2000, the Library's bicentennial year.
- The Multimedia Library will allow visitors to explore creativity in America with the world's largest library at their fingertips. They might choose for example, to tell a joke by Bob Hope (from the Library's collection of Bob Hope's joke file), adapt the musical soundtrack of Hitchcock's "The Birds," listen to and record a poem by Robert Frost and much more.
- A behind-the-scenes tour of the inner workings of the Main Reading Room (circulation, sorting, distribution and shelving).
"Less than 10 percent of visitors actually get to know the building," said Irene Chambers, director of the Library's Interpretive Programs Office. "Using technologies that seem to have been invented for a use like this, visitors will, for the first time, be able to walk around the whole perimeter of the Main Reading Room."
In an effort to reach out to the K-12 educational community, the Library is developing "Knowledge Quest," a game-based journey through the Library, which will be tailored to various difficulty levels. Individuals who complete their "quest" will receive a reward certificate either at the Library or when they access the Library's Web site.
"We hope the experience will create lifelong learners and lifelong patrons of the Library of Congress," said Elizabeth Ridgway, acting head of Educational Outreach in the Library's Office of Strategic Initiatives (OSI).
"We hope this will be the most cutting-edge visitors' experience to be had in Washington, D.C.," added Kevin Novak, head of Web Services in OSI.
And the fun and learning need not end when visitors leave the Library. Through the "Passport to Knowledge," visitors can "bookmark" their Library experience, go to their personalized Library Web site (myLOC.gov) and extend their visit online by exploring additional digital content and revisiting key items of interest.
"William Butler Yeats said that education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire," said Billington. "We hope the New Visitors Experience will light a spark in as many people as possible."