Home > 88. The Quaggas of Creativity, C. The Thinker As Hero > A Tale of Two Libraries: MLK Memorial and the Library of Congress

A Tale of Two Libraries: MLK Memorial and the Library of Congress

File:Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Library.jpg

MLK Jr. Memorial Library

RT finds it somewhat odd, if not outright inexplicable, that he has never posted about libraries before: he is a lifelong lover of libraries and learning and an avid patron of any library that happens to reside near his current domicile.

The library that has corrected RT’s egregious oversight, the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library in Washington, D.C., is not as famous as its neighbor, the Library of Congress, but is in its way just as important. But the two buildings could not be more different: the LOC’s Thomas Jefferson Building, designed by John L. Smithmeyer and Paul J. Pelz and opened in 1897, is a fine example of the Beaux Arts style, roofed with a copper dome and containing a grand reading room.

File:Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. - c. 1902.jpg

Library of Congress, 1902

The MLK Library building, on the other hand, is a modernist work, designed by Mies van der Rohe, one of the 20th century’s most distinguished architects. It opened in 1972 and is the only public library ever designed by the architect.


Then there are the differences in function between the two libraries. The Library of Congress is the United State’s unofficial national library. Among its holdings (22.7 million cataloged books, plus millions of other items) are the Russian Imperial Collection, consisting of 2,600 volumes from the library of the Romanov family; collections of Hebraica and Chinese and Japanese works; and Otto Vollbehr’s collection of incunabula, including one of three remaining perfect vellum copies of the Gutenberg BibleWow!

The MLK Library is the central library of the District of Columbia’s library system. It houses several of the system’s special collections. The Washingtoniana collection includes books, newspaper archives, maps, census records, and oral histories related to the city’s history, including 1.3 million photographs from the Washington Star newspaper and the theatrical video collection of the Washington Area Performing Arts Video Archive. The library offers a) computer and adult literacy instruction and b) help for job seekers and people filing their income taxes. Many of its services are available on the internet. Wow!

It’s clear that the two libraries serve different audiences: the LOC, though open to the general public, has special resources that interest the most serious readers and researchers; MLKL serves Washington D.C.’s residents and those interested in the history of the District of Columbia. And, to RT’s eye, the buildings they are housed in reflect their purposes in a helpful way. In particular, RT would like to note the main hall of MLKL. There is something quite subtle about Mie’s work; his sense of volume is sublime, and any who enter the library feel the dignity of the space–even if the building materials are steel, glass, and brick. RT could find no picture that gives the reader an adequate idea of the main hall, so he offers an interior photo of another of Mie’s buildings: the Neue Nationalgalerie in Berlin.    RT

File:Berlin Neue Nationalgalerie June 2002.jpg

Neue Nationalgalerie, Berlin

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Photos: Top two: Public Domain; Bottom: CC 1.0. All: WikiCmns.

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