By MEG SMITH
The newly renovated Thomas Jefferson Building has always been considered a landmark in the traditional sense. Now it is a "literary landmark," thanks to a recent ceremony held on the building's Neptune Plaza on June 26.
Friends of Libraries USA (FOLUSA) honored the building during a sunny morning ceremony, collaborating with the Center for the Book to designate the building as a Literary Landmark. More than 100 Library lovers, including Dr. Billington, Librarian Emeritus Daniel J. Boorstin and his wife, poet Ruth Boorstin, attended.
"No other site in our nation so richly deserves the designation of Literary Landmark," said FOLUSA President Heather Cameron after presenting Dr. Billington and Dr. Boorstin with a bronze plaque naming the building the 31st Literary Landmark in the United States. Previous landmarks include the Faulkner House book store in New Orleans, where the author wrote his novel Soldier's Pay, the houses of Edgar Allan Poe and Tennessee Williams and the cottage of former Poet Laureate Robert Penn Warren. Since 1987 FOLUSA has chosen sites at the locations of ALA conferences to receive Literary Landmark designations.
"I think we should also pay tribute to Congress," said Dr. Billington. "They have been the single most important patron of libraries in the world."
Dr. Billington and Dr. Boorstin accepted the award. Speakers included Ruth Boorstin, who read her poem Spring: The Award Season; John Y. Cole, director of the Center for the Book; Sandy Dolnick, executive director of FOLUSA; Barbara Ford, outgoing president of the American Library Association; Josephus Nelson, reference librarian; Ford Peatross, curator of the architecture, design and engineering collection in the Prints and Photographs Division; and Librarian of Virginia Nolan Yelich.
Mr. Yelich presented Dr. Billington with a certificate signed by Virginia Gov. James S. Gilmore III designating June 26, 1998, as Library of Congress Day. In his remarks, Yelich emphasized Thomas Jefferson's love of books and his close connection with the development of the Library of Congress.
Following the ceremony, Dr. Boorstin, who founded the Center for the Book in 1977, said the international materials in the Library made it a "global landmark." "In a nation of nations, a national library must collect materials in all the world's languages," he said. "Although lots of people had a part in [the ceremony], I give credit to the Library itself for holding such an ingenious and protean collection of ... materials."
"Last year was the first time in a decade that the building was fully accessible to the American people, following its 12-year renovation," said Mr. Cole. "This year I think we're reaping the benefits."
This fall, the Jefferson Building will receive another honor, from the American Association for State and Local History in Nashville, which announced in June that the Library and the Office of the Architect of the Capitol have won an award of merit for the restoration of the Jefferson Building. The AASLH awards have encouraged standards of excellence in the "collection, preservation and restoration of state, local and regional American history" since 1945.
"I think it is the most beautifully decorated building in America," said Mr. Cole." Mixed in with my belief is a feeling of pride, knowing that people outside the Library think so too."
Staff members have shown their pride in the Jefferson Building by collecting Library memorabilia dating back to the building's opening in 1897. An exhibit of these artifacts was on display from November 1997 until early July 1998 in the building's Great Hall.
Contributors to the exhibit, including Mr. Cole, LC Archivist William Mobley and Senior Copyright Information Specialist Frank Evina, held a discussion with staff members June 18 on how the antique postcards, paperweights, inkwells and artwork featuring the Library were collected. Exhibit Director Martha Hopkins praised Mr. Evina for "probably having snagged all the remaining Library of Congress memorabilia from flea markets and antique shops across the country."
Mr. Evina said he created his private collection of Library antiques and souvenirs "out of a sense of awe to see our predecessors at work in old photographs of the Jefferson building."
Although the building is reaping praise now, Mr. Evina told the audience that one of the Jefferson Building's most famous critics was President Franklin Roosevelt, who said its European-style architecture clashed with other buildings on Capitol Hill.
"Not only did he not like the front of the building," Mr. Evina said, "he also wanted to have the dome removed."
In June, a lavishly illustrated book about the building won a Best of Show in the Design and Effectiveness Competition sponsored by Washington Book Publishers in June. The Library of Congress: The Art and Architecture of the Thomas Jefferson Building was cited for its for its rich, vivid layout and photographs. (The Library's Eyes of the Nation: A Visual History of the United States came in second in the same category. It also won first prize in the 18th annual Museum Publications Design Competition.)
Published one year after the Jefferson building's 100th birthday, the 1998 "labor of love" is a prelude to the Library of Congress Bicentennial in 2000, according to Mr. Cole, who edited the 320-page book with architectural historian Henry Hope Reed.
Ms. Smith is an intern in the Public Affairs Office.