News & Politics

The “Stunning” Library of Congress Main Reading Room Will Soon Be Open to Visitors

For two hours a day, you'll no longer need a library card to access the ornate space.

For years, if you wanted to access the Library of Congress’s ornate main reading room, you first needed to flash a photo ID library card. But starting on April 11 through September, the library will be piloting an exception to that rule.

For a few hours each day, visitors who previously could only view the room at an angle through a plexiglass window on the floor above will be able to experience it for themselves. Visitors will have access to the room from 10:30 to 11:30 a.m. and 2 to 3 p.m. on Tuesdays through Fridays.

In addition, visitors can access the room on Thursday evenings from 5 to 8 p.m. as part of the LOC’s Live at the Library events, a weekly series that started last May.

Located on the first floor of the Thomas Jefferson Building, which was named a National Historic Landmark in 1965, the main reading room sits beneath a soaring 160-foot-high dome that’s intricately painted to evoke human knowledge and understanding.

Photograph by Flickr user Lorie Shaull.

“The ceiling is the most beautiful and ornate part of the reading room,” said Leah Knobel, a public affairs specialist for the library. “It’s really quite stunning, so it’ll be exciting to make that more accessible.”

In the past, the library has occasionally let the public into the room, usually on holidays like Indigenous People’s Day or President’s Day. The library also piloted public access during many of its Live at the Library events this past summer and fall.

“Visitors loved it, so that was exciting to see and definitely part of the motivation to make this a regular occurrence,” Knobel said. “At the end of the day, the goal of the Library of Congress is to expand access to this space.”

The library is changing its rules to allow non-flash photography of the room. Researcher access to the room will remain the same, and the library is asking visitors to maintain respect for them by treating the experience as “one of quiet reflection.”

Pre-pandemic, the library welcomed roughly 2 million visitors per year. Currently, the library is still requiring free, timed passes for visitors, which you can reserve here.

“Inviting visitors to walk inside the Library’s majestic Main Reading Room directly connects to our mission to inspire the American people who visit their national library,” said Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden. “I can think of few spaces anywhere that have the ability to inspire the kind of awe I feel every time I walk into that room.”

Photograph by Flickr user Amaury Laporte.



This story has been updated to clarify that the library piloted public access to the main reading room during multiple Live at the Library events, not just one.




Jessica Ruf
Assistant Editor