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Thomas Jefferson Building will reopen to visitors via timed, ticked entry beginning July 15. Virtual events ongoing. More.

Quick Look

The mission of the Library of Congress is written on these walls. Follow this path to read the story of the Library as imagined in 1897, when the Thomas Jefferson building opened to the public.

Thomas Jefferson Building - First Floor

Gutenberg Bible - First Floor

Look up and around the gallery that holds the Gutenberg Bible. Here you will find murals depicting the evolution of the written word, titled The Cairn, Oral Tradition, Egyptian Hieroglyphics, Picture Writing, The Manuscript Book, and last The Printing Press. These murals were painted in 1897, when this building first opened. What would you add today?

Gutenberg’s invention of the first printing press in Western Europe to use moveable, metal, type revolutionized communication. Texts that were once rare flooded all corners of Europe, opening doors for every person who could read to access the world’s accumulated knowledge. This explosion of literacy and of the written word paved the way for the Renaissance, the Reformation, and the Scientific Revolution. One of the first books produced from the press, the Gutenberg Bible marks a transition from the Middle Ages to modern times. 

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Great Hall. View from above of zodiac on the floor, three archways, and grand staircase to left. Library of Congress Thomas Jefferson Building, Washington, D.C.; Photographer Carol M. Highsmith, 2007; Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress)

Great Hall - First Floor

Opened to the public in 1897, the Great Hall was designed to represent prevailing views of American industriousness, technological capabilities, and intellectual promise.

Observe the compass in the center of the floor. It reminds us that the Library is here as a guide in your search for information and ideas. The circles around the edge of the floor show the twelve constellations that are also the symbols of the zodiac. (Clockwise from the base of the north staircase: Leo, Cancer, Gemini, Taurus, Aries, Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn, Sagittarius, Scorpio, Libra and Virgo.)
Follow its eastward point to the archway with two figures representing lifelong learning. Their pursuit of knowledge echoes in the ceiling above.  Search the visual landscape for renowned writers and symbols of learning to inspire your own creative actions.

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Thomas Jefferson Building - Second Floor

Minerva - Second Floor

Second Floor, East Corridor. Mosaic of Minerva by Elihu Vedder within central arched panel leading to the Visitor's Gallery. Library of Congress Thomas Jefferson Building, Washington, D.C. photographer Carol Highsmith, 2007, Prints & Photographs Division, Library of Congress

This Mosaic was designed by Elihu Vedder and crafted by artisans using ancient Roman techniques. It features Minerva, the Roman goddess of wisdom and defensive war. Her shield, decorated with a depiction of Medusa, is cast aside, her helmet is off, and her spear is pointed towards the ground. The clouds of ignorance part, making way for the light of knowledge. With Nike, goddess of victory, by her side, Minerva holds a scroll depicting fields of study. The scroll, however, is not fully unfurled, representing the idea that we still have much to discover.

Main Reading Room – Second Floor

From the visitor overlook, view the stunning Main Reading Room, where researchers with a Library of Congress reader’s card can use the general collections. In the dome above, twelve large figures represent different eras or regions of the world and a late nineteenth century view of their important contributions to western civilization. The eight figures between the windows symbolize areas of knowledge. Flanking them on the balustrade below, sixteen bronze statues represent men famous for their contributions to each area.

Printers’ Marks – Second Floor

Credit: Second Floor Corridor. Printers' marks+Columns. Printer's mark of R. Pynson. Library of Congress Thomas Jefferson Building, Washington, D.C. Carol M. Highsmith, photographer, 2007; Prints & Photographs Division, Library of Congress

As you look up, notice the curved triangles that point toward the ceiling, between the columns. Each triangle contains a unique design. Known as a printer’s mark, these were used by some of the earliest printers, often on the title page of their books, to identify their works and to protect against counterfeit editions, and to help readers recognize a source of trustworthy information. The marks also represent a core function of the Library that continues today. The U.S. Copyright Office, part of the Library of Congress, promotes creativity and free expression by administering the nation’s copyright laws and providing expert advice on copyright law.

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Fields of Study - Second Floor

Throughout the Mezzanine, notice the range of disciplines listed in the ceiling—from astronomy to history to zoology. The Jefferson building was established as a temple to knowledge, and within the Library, you can explore connections across many fields of study.

Quotations – Second Floor

Search the ceilings on the second floor to find quotations on knowledge, science, and art, including:

  • SCIENCE IS ORGANIZED KNOWLEDGE
    Herbert Spencer, Essays, "The Genesis of Science," Vol. ii, 1.
  • BEAUTY IS TRUTH, TRUTH BEAUTY
    Keats, Ode on a Grecian Urn
  • WORDS ARE ALSO ACTIONS AND ACTIONS ARE A KIND OF WORDS
    Emerson, Essays, "The Poet"
  • KNOWLEDGE COMES, BUT WISDOM LINGERS
    Tennyson, Locksley Hall, Stanza 72

Conclusion

As the Library’s Director of Special Collections has said, “You can find answers to anything you’re curious about here. What is your question?” Or in the words of one of our staff members, “As a reference librarian, the curiosity of others is what drives my day.” We hope you come back soon, to the building or to the Library online, to use the collections to explore the questions and curiosities that drive you.

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