By GAIL FINEBERG
Jacob Porter, 9, of Los Gatos, Calif., had waited all week to visit the Library. “I love books,” he explained simply.
Jacob’s mom and dad, Robin and Mark Porter, read stories to him when he was a baby, and as soon as he could learn to read himself he began devouring books. Jacob is happy to go to bed at 8 o’clock every night because he is permitted to read until 8:30. (Past that time, he keeps on reading with a flashlight beneath the covers.)
Because he runs out of things to read, Jacob haunts his local library. A librarian there told him he ought to see the Library of Congress, “which has every book in the world—well, every copyrighted book,” Jacob said.
When his parents started planning their spring trip to Washington, they sat down with Jacob and a list of popular places to visit—the White House, the Capitol, the monuments, and the Air and Space museum. “What do you want to see?” they asked.
“The Library of Congress,” he said.
“It wasn’t on our list,” his mother said. “But it’s all he wanted to see.”
The Porters arrived on Tuesday, April 8, and came straight to the Library. But the Thomas Jefferson Building was closed to prepare the space for the Saturday opening of the Library of Congress Experience. Jacob was devastated.
He tried to get a reader registration card at the Library, only to learn he had to be 16 to use any reading room.
“He had a meltdown,” his mother said. “It was beginning to ruin our vacation. So we suggested he protest.” Jacob marched into the Hill office of his senator, Barbara Boxer, and made his complaint to an aide. Then he persuaded his family to delay their return flight to California until the evening of April 12 so he could attend the grand opening of the Library of Congress Experience.
Jacob and his family were among the first ones through the bronze doors. He met the Librarian. He watched the orientation films and walked around the great spaces and fiddled with the electronic interpretive stations in the exhibitions. He bought copies of the Declaration and Constitution in the Sales Shop.
But he was disappointed. “That little boy in the film said, ‘This is our library.’ Well, it’s not my library. Where are the books? I haven’t seen any books. And I can’t use it ‘til I’m 16,” he said.
Ford Peatross, the Library’s curator of architecture, listened to his story. Impressed by Jacob’s love of books and determination, Peatross found Tori Hill, head of the Main Reading Room, to ask her a huge favor—to let Jacob into the stacks, just for a moment, to see the books.
“Jacob, are you becoming more trouble than you’re worth?” Hill quipped, picking him up and parking him on a Main Reading Room railing for a nose-to-nose talk. Jacob grinned.
Hill hugged him and led the way behind closed doors. “These shelves hold the building up,” she said. “There are seven floors of stacks just like these, and they fill the core of the Thomas Jefferson Building.” She explained how the old book conveyor system used to work, and the tour was over.
“How can I use the books?” he asked.
“Well, you can’t use them by yourself until you’re 16,” Hill responded. “But you can request books by interlibrary loan. And you can come with your mom, who can order books for you to read here, with her.”
Jacob wrapped his arms around her, and then around Peatross. “Thank you,” he said. He was smiling broadly as he waved goodbye.
Gail Fineberg is the editor of The Gazette, the Library’s staff newsletter.