As a child with an independent spirit and a bike (a green Schwinn with a white banana seat, white plastic basket with flowers on the front and streamers flying from the handlebars) some of my favorite memories involved pedaling a few blocks to the library in Clearwater, Kansas. It was a cozy place where I earnestly checked out volumes of a children’s encyclopedia and later Nancy Drew and Bobbsey twins mysteries. It’s where I found Farewell to Manzanar, my first introduction to the Japanese internment camps and the idea that I could learn something important by understanding the experiences of people of all backgrounds.
I’d fill my basket with books, proudly using my library card. I participated in summer reading challenges most summers and recall one season where the prizes were small illustrated cards describing tribes of Plains Indians that we laced together into a little book. My mom, sister and I sometimes would visit the much larger collection in downtown Wichita, where Mom worked at a nearby accounting firm. I so loved going with her to the multi-story building with windows overlooking downtown and filled with so much knowledge, so many ideas!
Even though I’ve visited Washington DC a number of times, I had never been to the Library of Congress. I knew of its collections and years ago researched ways to get prints of photographs taken by Dorothea Lange and others who made photos during the Depression and through the federal Works Progress Administration. One recent gorgeous fall day, I rode the Metro to the National Mall and then rented a Capital bike to pedal around the monuments. It was the perfect way to cover some miles and enjoy the views. As I docked the bike near the Smithsonian Metro stop, I saw a banner announcing the USDA’s farmer’s market. Among the produce, meats and eggs were many booths that offered prepared foods, and clearly it was a lunch destination for residents and tourists alike. I had one of the best crab cake sandwiches ever, sitting in the shade of a small tree near a tent set up with tables and chairs. Baskets held picnic blankets for people to roll out. Several diners tossed bean-bags in a corn hole game decorated with vegetables. After a scoop of plum sorbet made from local fruit, I was ready to go to the library.
I got another bike and pedaled to Capitol Hill. After docking the bike, I walked to the Jefferson Building of the Library of Congress, learned how to get a library card (called a reader identification card) and promptly wound my way through several lower levels to get to the registration area. A few minutes later, I had my laminated photo ID good for two years! I hadn’t come with a particular research agenda, so I wandered the incredible building, took photos, explored exhibits and then made my way back to the reading room with my card just to browse the stacks, pull a collection of feminist essays and find a lighted desk to sit a few minutes to read. I was filled with joy and humility to read in this temple of knowledge. I’ll have a list the next time I visit.