Visitors to the Library’s historic Thomas Jefferson Building enter directly into the first floor Great Hall through three bronze doors. The doors were opened to the public for the first time in nearly two decades as the Library launched the new Experience with a public celebration Saturday, April 12, the day before Jefferson’s 265th birthday.
From the entry, visitors are directed to one of two orientation galleries flanking the Great Hall, where information about events and how to navigate the new Experience is presented on overhead monitors. A multimedia “overture” delivering more than a thousand images and sounds from the Library’s collections plays on a multi-screen collage in each orientation gallery.
In the Orientation Galleries, each visitor receives a “Passport to Knowledge,” a guide to the “greatest hits” of the Experience with instructions for self-guided audio tours.
Later in 2008, a unique barcode on the Passport to Knowledge will allow visitors to play a game-based activity called Knowledge Quest and to “bookmark” objects of interest for later exploration on a personalized Web site at myLOC.gov.
In the Great Hall, one of the Library’s top treasures, the Gutenberg Bible, is displayed along with the Giant Bible of Mainz. A special new interactive station explains their rarity and relative position in the history of the written word, and touch-screen technology allows visitors to virtually turn the pages and explore each page of the illuminated Latin texts. The Gutenberg Bible was the first book printed with movable metal type; it was produced in Mainz, Germany, in the mid-1450s and is one of three perfect vellum copies in existence. Its predecessor, the Giant Bible of Mainz, is a beautiful example of a hand-lettered, hand-illuminated book of its era.
Creating the United States
On the second floor (mezzanine level) is the new exhibit “Creating the United States”, where visitors are first greeted by an interactive video wall that senses their presence and reveals varied historical information based on where the visitor is standing.
“Creating the United States” tells the story of how the Founding Fathers used creativity, collaboration and compromise to form the nation, with a focus on the words and phrases that created the republic. Visitors can examine and interact with historic drafts of the Declaration of Independence, George Washington’s copy of the Constitution and John Beckley’s Bill of Rights.
Thomas Jefferson’s Library
On display in a set of bookcases arrayed on the display floor like a curving cross-section of a shell are more than 6,000 volumes, including 2,000 originals, from Jefferson’s library. Jefferson followed a modified version of an organizational system created by British philosopher Francis Bacon (1561–1626) to arrange the books in his library, which are divided into the categories of Memory, Reason and Imagination.
Jefferson’s personal library features thousands of original volumes that provided the foundation for the Library of Congress and its universal collections. Using interactive page-turning technology, visitors can navigate several of the books and learn how one of America’s greatest thinkers was inspired.
Exploring the Early Americas
The Library of Congress Experience incorporates the “Exploring the Early Americas” exhibit, which opened in December 2007. (See Information Bulletin, January/February 2008).
The exhibition tells the story of the Americas before the time of Columbus, as well as the period of contact and conquest and their aftermath. It features unique objects from the Library’s Jay I. Kislak Collection, as well as Martin Waldseemüller’s 1507 Map of the World, the first document to use the word “America.” Seven high-tech interactive displays augment the artifacts, along with two hands-on stations where patrons can delve deeper into the collection and explore the history it represents.
Companion Web Site (myLOC.gov)
A companion Web site to the Library of Congress Experience, myLOC.gov, also launched on April 12. Hosted by Terremark Federal Group, Inc., a subsidiary of Terremark Worldwide, Inc., the site features interactive versions of the same exhibition content from the physical experience, educational resources, information for visitors, and a page where users can create their own virtual collection of Library objects. Later in 2008, the Passport to Knowledge will connect onsite visitors to their bookmarked content at myLOC.gov.
Interactive educational content is the hallmark of the Library’s new Experience. Teachers will have access to a range of educational resources that will transform a visit to the Library into a meaningful experience for learners of all ages. Onsite and online multimedia activities will engage young people to think critically, inspiring lifelong learning and future exploration of the Library’s collections.
“Inspiration Across the Nation”
The myLOC.gov Web site also brings the Experience home to the public through “Inspiration Across the Nation,” an online campaign to celebrate and showcase the creativity and contributions of our nation’s early cultures, great minds and other founding influences. People nationwide will have the opportunity to submit to the Library their own creative works in the form of stories, poems, video, audio, photos–anything that can be transmitted in an electronic file. Select entries will be chosen to be part of the Library’s permanent collections.
To extend this national celebration into local communities around the country, the Library and several public libraries will host events tied to the theme “Inspiration Across the Nation.” These events will begin in fall 2008 and continue in 2009.
“Visitors to the new Library of Congress Experience will find an amazing place where they will experience highlights of the largest collection anywhere of the world’s knowledge and America’s creativity,” said Billington. “They will meet the richness of the past, spark their own curiosity and imagination, and continue the adventure of learning online, at home.”
The Library of Congress Experience is made possible by the benefaction of the United States Congress and with major support from John and Maria Kluge, Microsoft Corp., Terremark Worldwide Inc., Marguerite and Gerry Lenfest, David H. Koch, Peter D. and Julie Fisher Cummings, Marjorie S. Fisher, Roger and Susan Hertog, Jay I. Kislak, The Pew Charitable Trusts, Xerox Foundation, Raymond W. Smith, Nancy Glanville Jewell, Beatrice W. Welters, Consuelo Duroc-Danner, Marjorie M. Fisher, and the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, with the additional support of other generous donors.
Detailed information on the Experience can be found at a new microsite, www.loc.gov/experience/.
Gail Fineberg, Jennifer Gavin and Erin Allen of the Library’s Public Affairs Office contributed to this story.