I am not an American, but when you come to a resource like the U.S. Library of Congress, I wish I were. It is after all the largest library in the world. 33 million books (838 miles of shelves) is quite a lot of reading. Just to boggle your mind with statistics, 10,000 new items are added to the library’s catalog each day.
But unless you are a member of the Congress, you can’t check out books. You can use the huge collection for reading and research. For those of us who have yet to experience something like the majestic Great Hall of the Thomas Jefferson Building, an online peek is the next best option.
Though it doesn’t come close to the real deal, the online website of the Library of Congress offers some nice free resources.
Take a Virtual Tour of the Library of Congress Online
The next best thing to actually being there, or something better than hearing someone rave about it. The Library of Congress gives you a virtual tour with the help of an iPhone, iPod Touch, and iPad app. If you don’t own any of these, you can still go to the online site and catch the virtual tours. You just need to have Microsoft Silverlight installed for two of the interactives. The screenshot above is a tour of the Main Reading Room. Click on the red markers to learn all about the 16 magnificent statues.
There are host of other interactives. For instance, you can literally turn the pages of the Gutenberg Bible.
Play Knowledge Quest
Knowledge Quest is a historical trivia game that you can play on the MyLOC sub-site. The interactive game is a great way to learn about the historical objects of interest in the library and also about history itself. The learning game has many levels and you can start from anywhere. It is a very useful resource for teachers and students and beautifully designed.
Listen to Podcasts
Downloadable podcasts forms an important audio resource on the Library of Congress Online. You can subscribe to the free podcasts and listen to them in your podcast player or iTunes. You can expect the podcasts to be of topnotch quality as they are presented by well-known novelists, historians, and narrators. Many podcasts are part of featured series audio presentations.
If you are less of an audio guy and more for streaming videos, you won’t be disappointed as LOC has an entire section covering not only history but also more contemporary topics like environment, the Afghanistan conflict, weight loss etc. The entire American Memory video collection is listed alphabetically and it should take you the better part of your life to go through all of them. Typical maximum sizes are about 40 MB. Webcasts may require a Real Player plug-in. You will also find webcasts on iTunes U and then there’s the Library of Congress YouTube channel with 800+ uploads.
The Flickr ‘Commons’ Photostream
LOC runs a ‘Commons’ project where they provide access to a large number of historical photographs via Flickr. Some of the most famous photographs in the world (e.g. Migrant Mother) are part of these collections. Explore history visually. All photos are free from copyright restrictions and you can use them for any educational project.
Go Back Today In History
I had written about a few places where you can find out what happened today in history. The Library of Congress Today in History found a mention there. You can bookmark and visit it every day to get a sense of time.
Solve Today’s Science Mysteries
I bet you can’t answer all common everyday phenomena (How high can a nine-banded armadillo jump into the air?). Then you need to visit the neatly laid out Everyday Mysteries page along with a child and look up everything related to the strangeness in our sciences.
Read a Few Classics
The Library of Congress actively ties to promote literacy and good reading. The Lifelong Literacy section has interactive resources for kids, teens, students, educators, and adults. You can browse through books in a fun way using your Silverlight enabled browser. There are classic book titles and suggested titles for nourishing the reading habit. The above screen is from an interactive Story Book Adventure game.
Catch Exhibitions Online
When you can’t make the trip, why not catch a glimpse of the exhibitions in your browser. There’s something always going on and you can browse through the previous ones too. It is all very systematically laid out with multimedia resources and interactives (wherever available). The latest one is on I Love Lucy, the popular TV show.
The Virtual Reference Shelf
Exploring the library – even virtually – tires you out. There’s so much to click and browse. If you still have an appetite, head for the Virtual Reference Shelf. Here you will find a comprehensive list of external resources; from acronym finders to quotation sites…it’s a directory which you can keep bookmarked because the sources are collected with a strict eye for quality by the staff of LOC.
I have been browsing through the Library of Congress Online for the past few hours or so. I still have a sneaking hunch that I might have missed an important resource or two. If I have, do mention it in the comments. It could add something to our education and learning. Also, let us know if you have actually visited the Library of Congress? How was the experience?
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