By GAIL FINEBERG
Rivers of people flowed through the marble halls and mahogany reading rooms of the Thomas Jefferson Building on Sunday, May 4, glorying in the reopening of the 100-year-old building and the restoration of its fine art and architecture.
During the preceding week of opening events, celebratory speeches and intense media coverage, the Jefferson Building was described variously as an expression "of the exuberance of the United States" (President Clinton), "the biggest treasure of all" (Dr. Billington) and "extravagantly ornamental" (The New York Times). CBS's Charles Osgood on the "Sunday Morning" show spoke of LC as "our library ... a great palace of wisdom."
The culminating Festival of Cultures, as the Library called its May 4 public opening, lived up to its billing. The event was supported in part by Xerox, which also is financing the "American Treasures" exhibition and its online version.
To the delight of many staffers and visitors stacked behind the Great Hall's marble balustrades, Italy's Sbandieratori Casventum Sangemini began the day with courtly fanfare; as flags soared, drums rat-tat-tatted and trumpets blared, the troupe's joyful noise reverberated from the glossy mosaic floor to the farthest cornice. The performers came to the Library courtesy of the Italian Cultural Institute, and their visit was arranged by the Library's Italian/French area specialist, Carol Armbruster.
Festivities continued without pause until the last foot-stomping Cajun tune of Steve Riley and the Mamou Playboys from Louisiana set the South Lawn crowd to dancing.
Carried on currents of curiosity, guests visited the new area-studies reading rooms. In the Asian Division Reading Room, they saw demonstrations of Chinese calligraphy, Japanese flower arranging (ikebana) and Korean dancing. They heard flamenco guitar music, Armenian and Jewish folk songs and Manding griot music from Senegal in the African and Middle Eastern Reading Room. They watched the hand decoration of Ukrainian Easter eggs (pysanky) in the European Reading Room, where custom tours of the room were conducted throughout the day. And they visited the Hispanic Division Reading Room, which reopened in 1992, where a local band played a medley of Latin American music.
Some 8,500 visitors moved from the Great Hall into the Main Reading Room, around the central desk, and back out, and 4,177 trooped through the "American Treasures of the Library of Congress" exhibition. In the northwest curtain, guests lined up to see digital displays by the National Digital Library and book binding by the Preservation Directorate. On the ground floor, newcomers tried out touch-screen PCs in the new Visitors' Center. Next door, they bought $16,000 worth of merchandise in the new Sales Shop.
Outside, guests sampled native American fry bread, Thai treats and she-crab soup while weaving, bobbing or stepping to the exotic rhythms of Indian dancers, the rollicking beat of Celtic Thunder, the soul and swing of Legendary Orioles and Hand Dancers, the searing sounds of Sweet Honey in the Rock, the toe-tapping country tunes of Seldom Scene.
Greeting and guiding visitors all day were hundreds of staffers, many of them volunteers wearing special Library T-shirts. Their chores ranged from the mundane (ironing bunting) to the business of policing (there were no disturbances), nursing (tending to two injuries from falls and passing out bandages) and managing stage events (setting up an indoor sound system at the last minute for the Italian flag-throwers to escape cold winds on the Neptune Plaza).
Said Dr. Billington: "People came to see the refurbished Jefferson Building, and in the process they discovered our uniquely talented staff, who bring these buildings and collections alive."
Ms. Fineberg is editor of The Gazette, the Library's staff newspaper.