In the centre of Washington D.C., opposite the Capitol Building and down the street from the Supreme Court, the Library of Congress claims to be the largest library in the world with ‘164 million items on approximately 838 miles of bookshelves’ according to their website housing a wide range of artefacts from U.S. history.
The LOC is in the heart of the political district of Washington D.C., in walking distance from many federal buildings in addition to the Supreme Court and the Capitol Building. The library is a short five-minute walk from Capitol South station on the orange, blue and grey lines if using the WMATA. Alternatively, you can get off at Judicial Square station on the red line or Archives station on the yellow line, depending on where you are approaching from. Bus services also run while taxies and uber rides are also regularly on hand.
In 2016, the LOC received 1.8million visitors, and I was one of them!
I made my visit to look at the papers of former National Security Advisor and current director of UNICEF Anthony Lake, who during my period of study was Director of the Policy Planning Committee at the State Department. I did not need Mr Lake’s permission to access his materials as he has made them fully available to researchers however some individuals do not allow this and ask for their consent before being viewed. So it is worth checking this out beforehand. The finding aid for the collection I was looking for is available online, as are many others, which allowed me to plan appropriately pre-visit.
Like nearly everyone who has ever gone to the LOC to conduct research, I made the mistake of entering through the main entrance at the Thomas Jefferson Building. In actuality, the majority of research undertaken at the LOC is done in the James Madison Memorial Building across the street. Fortunately, to spare me some embarrassment I was directed to take an elevator to the basement and make a walk through a long corridor which connects the two buildings under Independence Avenue.
Once I had arrived, I made my way to the registration office on the fourth floor where I filled out my application and received my researchers card. I then proceeded back to the first floor to the manuscript reading room on the first floor. Given that you have to go through security prior to entering the building and then registering, the process can seem a bit time consuming. If time is of the essence, then plan accordingly.
After I got to the manuscript reading room, I was assigned a desk and filled out my requests. The room is fairly spacious, so getting a desk would be no problem at all but as with any archive, it may be worth noting when the busy periods were. Given the sheer number of collections housed at the LOC, I was utterly amazed at the speed it took for my materials to arrive! So amazed in fact that I nearly even asked how they provided them with so quickly, I imagine there is a slightly boring answer but until I hear it, my mind will continue to run wild.
Prior to my visit, I did make email enquiries to the LOC and they replied speedily and provided me with all the information and advice I needed.
The Anthony Lake papers were divided into the three main periods in government in which he served. His time serving as an advisor to National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger, Director of the Policy Planning committee at the State Department, and National Security Advisor under President Clinton. Of those three, only his time at State interested me.
Lake’s collection is small and the papers relating to his days at the State Department were not as useful to my topic as I had hoped. Nevertheless, there were some interesting materials to look at it. Although my research does not cover his time as an aide to Henry Kissinger, some of the documents in the collection were particularly interesting to a researcher of U.S. foreign policy and the National Security Council. Particularly of note within the collection was Lake’s letter of resignation to Kissinger in 1970. Lake quit on the issue of U.S. intervention in Cambodia and his letter sheds considerable light on his objections as well as the break down in relations within the administration. Also of interest are legal documents relating to a law suit against Kissinger concerning the wiretapping of Lake’s phone. Although not my area of study, the Lake papers would be of some interest to those studying the Nixon administration and the role of Henry Kissinger.
Where to stay?
Washington D.C. is a great city, but it is also an expensive city! Good hotel rooms can cost upwards of $100 a night at least. The advent of Airbnb has proved particularly helpful in the search for affordable accommodation and there is plenty in D.C. shared rooms and places to rent available at competitive prices. N.B. The District of Columbia has an extra occupancy tax which will increase your accommodation costs. However, if you want to stay outside of the city, Virginia and Maryland (with the exception of Montgomery County) do not have the extra fee attached.
For this visit, I stayed in an Airbnb rented apartment in Arlington, Virginia, next to Clarendon station, a fifteen-minute metro ride to the centre of D.C. The area was vibrant with a lot of bars, shops, clubs and restaurants close by. The area felt very safe which was a big plus!
What to do?
In relation to D.C. the question should be, what is there not to do?! Having visited D.C. a number of times now I feel as though everything I could do, I have done. For me, a walk up the national mall is always a worthwhile thing to do starting at the Library of Congress and the Supreme Court before heading past the Capitol Building.
Heading up the mall you have Smithsonian museums on either side: The Air and Space Museum, National Museum of the American Indian, the National Gallery, the National Archives, the Natural History Museum, the American History Museum and the Holocaust Museum. Under construction is the National Museum of African American History and Culture which is due to be completed and opened later this year. After proceeding past these museums you come to the Washington monument which dominates the landscape of D.C. and is fairly hypnotic and directly north is the White House while heading east will take you to the Lincoln Memorial and the Vietnam and Korean war memorials. Heading South will take you to the Jefferson Memorial and a walk around the Tidal Basin will lead you to the Franklin Roosevelt and Martin Luther King memorials.
Having done everything, I could do in D.C. before I decided to take in a basketball match at the Verizon Center. Although basketball really isn’t my thing, the pageantry of it all is very exciting and the arena itself is pretty impressive. FYI, the Washington Wizards did beat the New York Knicks.