Thomas Jefferson Building


of an Exhibition

by theresa keefe

Published on February 17, 2010, Modified on February 24, 2011

  • Description:

    When I am in an exhibition I have a burning desire to touch objects. I want to take a magnifying glass to them and scrutinize the surface. I want to know how and why it was made. I want to know what is soooo great about this object that it is under a vitrine and I am not allowed to satiate my desire to feel it up. While the Library of Congress did not permit me to put my greasy paws all over their collections they did let me get up close and personal through the use of technology.

    As I entered the beautiful renaissance revival Thomas Jefferson building of the Library of Congress I was greeted with a line of sleek flat screen monitors shouting out “touch me”. Through the modern marvel of computer circuitry these elegant monitors communicated an amazing amount of information and allowed me to collect memoirs of my experience at the LOC.

    With the entry monitors I registered a “passport to knowledge” and submitted my e-mail address to the LOC. They also provided me with a list of current events, a map and exhibition schedule. Everything I needed to be well prepared to start my tour. I moved on to the exhibitions knowing exactly where I was going.

    The first exhibit was the LOCs Bible Collection. Immediately I saw two very old and interesting objects, the Mainz and Gutenberg Bibles. Unfortunately I could only observe the bibles through a plexi glass case. So I went over to a near by touch screen to see what it could do for me. This kiosk gave me additional information about these bibles and presented digital images of other historically important bibles. The best part, I thought, was the ability to flip through and zoom in on the pages. The resolution of the digital reproductions was excellent and zooming in revealed details you could not have seen otherwise. However, I was a little disappointed with the lack of in-depth information provided. Highlighted areas pointed out things like illuminated boarders and repaired areas, but these elements were simply highlighted, not interpreted or explained. I found this to be the case with several of the interactive kiosks. The graphics and manipulation were fantastic but the information was limited.

    As I progressed throughout the library I inserted my passport into multiple kiosks collecting objects and playing interactive games related to the exhibition I was in. These games were called “knowledge quests”. I found some games more interesting then others, but I did get caught up in the “quest” to complete them all.

    There were several other interactives which allowed me to manipulate collections objects and view architectural features up close and personal. One I really enjoyed was the Waldsemuller Maps Kiosk. This interactive compares two world maps from 1507 and 1516. It highlights interesting elements such as how the continents shapes changed as exploration advanced human understanding of the earth’s geography. Another interesting highlight on the 1507 map was the labeling of South America as America. This was the first time the name America was used on a map. I found this interpretive information and textual detail to be the most robust of all the interactive.

    The “Art and Architecture of the Jefferson Building” was another great interactive that allowed me to zoom in on details of the Library’s interior. For example, I zoomed in on the stained glass skylight and learned that it was a repetition of the mosaic pattern on the floor. Again however the interpretive detail was very limited.

    After about an hour and a half of perusing the galleries I had to jump on the metro and get out to Gaithersburg to catch my 8 year old nephews birthday party. I hadn’t seen everything or finished my knowledge quests, but I wasn’t worried because I had my passport. So after the crazy party was over I logged into and revisited the objects I had collected and completed a few more “quests”. I was also able to visit collections from exhibitions, which I hadn’t seen. One problem I encountered was the link that the LOC sent me (via e-mail) to access my personal collection did not work. Instead I had to navigate to through their main web page.

    Aesthetically the LOC beautifully integrates technology into the historic and exquisitely ornate Thomas Jefferson building. The use of technology is ubiquitous but not flashy. The monitors have clean understated profiles and contrast nicely with the sharp bold graphics they display, but do not clash with the building or distract from the physical exhibition. Some textual information could be made more robust and there were technical glitches. However all in all I was very satisfied with my technology experience and will be a frequent visitor to the LOC and their website.

Latest Comments (1)

thank you

by Paula Kaufman - February 19, 2010

this is a great article! now that it’s on my radar, makes me want to run right over to the LOC and have a look! i haven’t been there in a long time, and didn’t know they had touch screens.

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