As the largest library in the world with 530 miles of bookshelves, LC’s collection of books, manuscripts, prints… anything and everything, is phenomenal. Cooking and related materials include eleven editions of Hannah Glasse’s Art of Cookery and two of her extremely rare Complete Confectioner, La Varenne, children’s cookbooks, handwritten receipt manuscripts, herbals, Diderot, other early encyclopedias, and much more.
The Italianate Arts Jefferson building, with its stunning main reading room, was built to replace the library in the Capitol. The awesome domed ceiling rises high above the circulation desk where users drop off their request slips and pick up the books. On the floor above is the Rare Book Room. In addition to the books from the famed library of Thomas Jefferson, there are several large cookbook collections which were donated to the library.
Most of the cookbooks are housed on closed stacks in the Adams building, with its own reading room and reference shelves. The manuscript and prints rooms are in the newest building, the Madison, where first time researchers must apply for a library card. To view the other specialized rooms, hours and the catalog, go to:
Library of Congress Catalog
The conveyor system to move the books from the closed shelves within and between the buildings is fascinating. The request slip is time stamped at the center desk by a machine which careens throughout the vast room. Each time, which is often, the sound reminds me of the loud noise the librarian made while stamping the due date in books in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. The slip is then placed in one of the pneumatic tubes and sent from the reading room desk to the appropriate building. The book arrives on the conveyor in the central desk area.
The Handbook of the New Library of Congress, (1897) states the “about a quarter of a mile” to the Capitol is covered by a tunnel containing a pneumatic tube, wires of private telephones, and the book-carrying apparatus going 600 feet a minute. The author proclaimed “...it is said that a Congressman can get the volumes he desires in less time than it would have taken him when the Library occupied its old quarters in the Capitol itself.”
While users view LC as a delightful source of endless information, it is the Congress’s library. In addition to collecting and making available materials for Congressional members and their staff, it is the classroom for the youngest Federal employees— the House and Senate Pages (High School Juniors). The summer Pages, like my son Drew, could use the computer room or books on their free time.
The ever increasing on-line collection of materials from prints to books is searchable by word, phrase, or browse by topics such as ‘Women's History’ and ‘Culture/Folklife’. Various presidents’ papers, slave narratives, ‘Traveling in America’ documents [1750-1920], ‘Nineteenth Century Periodicals’ and books are online.
The pictures on this page are from the LC Prints and Photographs Online
LC video of Julia Child on first cookbooks including a singing cookbook from Utube.