Opening Up World's Top Library; Innovative, Interactive, Flashy Displays at Library of Congress

Article excerpt

Byline: Ann Geracimos, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

If experience really is the best teacher, the Library of Congress is determined to teach the public just how valuable - and, yes, modern - the venerable institution can be.

A series of largely interactive exhibits labeled the Library of Congress Experience, opening Saturday, will showcase the library's history and holdings in innovative ways that are even a bit flashy. Some dignified flash probably is good for a place that too often is regarded by the uninformed as off limits except to scholars and, of course, members of Congress.

In addition to the ambitious new project that Matt Raymond, director of communications, calls "easily the biggest project we've ever done," there is a new institutional logo - an open book resembling the American flag in abstract - and a new motto: "Explore, Discover, Be Inspired."

Those three activities describe precisely what organizers hope visitors will do when the bronze doors leading to the Great Hall of the Thomas Jefferson Building open to the public Saturday for the first time since 1990.

That's not to say the show inside isn't educational; there is plenty to please scholars traditionally drawn to the resources of the world's largest library, as well as more casual visitors. (A companion Web site is www.loc.gov/experience.) The difference now is that information is available on touch screens and through other eye- and ear-catching technology, including a dramatic free-standing wall that responds to a viewer's physical presence.

The wall introduces a section called "Creating the United States," and is made possible by hidden cameras focused on visitors' feet, a device that may be the first of its kind in a museum.

The section is one of four main features and exhibitions that can be experienced firsthand, using what officials call a Passport to Knowledge. Later this year, the passport will include individual bar codes to allow visitors to bookmark areas of interest in the exhibits that they can then access online at home on an interactive Web site - myLOC.gov - which will be launched Saturday.

In "Creating the United States," the largest of the four sections, it's possible to see in detail various drafts of the country's most famous documents as constructed by the Founding Fathers, including changes and corrections. An exhibit called "Thomas Jefferson's Library" re-creates his original library, containing 6,487 volumes that were given by him to found the library we know today. These include more than 2,000 surviving books from his own collection, in addition to replacements of the original titles.

"Art and Architecture of the Thomas Jefferson Building" emphasizes the history and ornate beauty of the Great Hall. …