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Main Reading Room (Humanities and Social Sciences Division)
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About the Main Reading Room

The Main Reading Room is the principal point for gaining access to the Library's general collections of books and bound periodicals. Every day, hundreds of books and bound periodical volumes are delivered from the stacks for use in the Main Reading Room. Even researchers who will go on to work in one of the specialized reading rooms often begin their work in the Main Reading Room in order to use the electronic resources in the Computer Catalog Center, to consult the Main Card Catalog, to obtain an orientation to the Library as a whole, or to use some of the approximately 70,000 volumes in the Main Reading Room reference collection.

Researchers in the Main Reading Room are assisted by a staff of skilled reference librarians. Each member of the reference staff is also a subject specialist as well as a generalist. A number hold advanced degrees in their fields, and many serve as guest lecturers at universities, deliver papers at conferences, publish in professional journals, or contribute to scholarly collections and reference works. Support staff in the Reading Room retrieve requested items from the stacks and work to locate missing materials.

The Humanities and Social Sciences Division periodically offers a 90-minute research orientation for first-time users. This course is a general introduction to the Library of Congress collections and resources, and includes some information on the Library's microform collections. More information and a schedule of research orientations is available in the Library of Congress publication Information for Researchers.

The Main Reading Room is open to researchers age 16 and above. All researchers must have a current Reader Identification Card; the Card must be displayed when entering the Reading Room and when requesting materials to be pulled from the closed stacks. To enhance the security of the collections, in June 1998 the Library implemented new restrictions on the personal belongings that researchers can bring with them into the Main Reading Room. A cloakroom for researchers is
provided on the ground floor of the Jefferson Building in Room LJ G08. This cloakroom is open from 8:30 a.m. to 9:45 p.m. on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays; and from 8:30 a.m. to 5:15 p.m. on Tuesdays, Fridays, and Saturdays. Another cloakroom, located near the 1st Street carriage entrance on the ground floor of the Jefferson Building, is open Mondays through Saturdays from 8:30 a.m. to 5:15 p.m.

Among the items which may be brought into the Main Reading Room are:

  • binders, composition books and notebooks
  • computers (laptop without the case)
  • handbags or purses smaller than 9.5" x 6.25"
  • paper (writing)
  • pencils and pens
  • personal books needed for research
  • service animals
  • sport coats, suit jackets or sweaters
Additional items that may be brought into the Main Reading Room only with the permission of a supervisor include:
  • cameras (to use in photographing items in the collection; photographs of the Reading Room itself are not permitted)
  • hand-held computer scanners
  • hand-held photocopiers
Items that may not be brought into the Main Reading Room include, but are not limited to, the following:
  • audio devices (includes radios, cassette players, "Walkman" type devices, etc.)
  • briefcases
  • cases for equipment
  • cellular phones and pagers in audible mode (Cellular phones and pagers set to vibrate or with the sound turned off are permitted.)
  • computers larger than laptop size
  • containers larger than 9.5" x 6.25" (includes paper bags, boxes, backpacks, knapsacks, shopping bags, sleeping bags, etc.)
  • drinks (includes bottled water)
  • food
  • food or drink containers
  • handbags or purses larger than 9.5"x6.25"
  • luggage
  • musical instruments and their cases
  • newspapers
  • outerwear, e.g. raincoats, overcoats
  • pets
  • photocopiers larger than hand-held
  • scissors or other cutting implements
  • televisions
  • typewriters
  • umbrellas
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  Home >> About the Main Reading Room
  The Library of Congress >> Researchers
  September 13, 2011
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