New European Reading Room at LC

By John Van Oudenaren

WESS Newsletter

Fall 1997, Vol. 21, no. 1

Association of College & Research Libraries
©American Library Association

The new European Reading Room of the Library of Congress opened to the public on May 1, 1997, following completion of a twelve-year renovation of the Thomas Jefferson Building by the Library and the Architect of the Capitol. Originally built in 1897, the Jefferson Building remains one of America's premier artistic and architectural treasures.

A major feature of the renovation was the establishment of three new area studies reading rooms: European, African and Middle Eastern, and Asian. The Hispanic Reading Room, also located in the Jefferson Building, was established already in the 1930s.

These spacious and researcher-friendly rooms provide improved access to the Library's vast foreign language collections, and are themselves a testament to the Library's ongoing commitment to area studies and its foreign language collections. Researchers enter the European Reading Room via the newly opened American Treasures exhibit on the second floor of the Jefferson Building. Hours are 8:30-5:00, Monday through Friday.

Architecturally, the reading room is comprised of two sections: an open forecourt where readers work at mahogany tables that are wired for laptops, and a colonnade at the back of the room which houses the offices of the European Division staff. The public reading area is illuminated by natural light from tall windows that face Independence Avenue on one side and an inner courtyard on the other. The forecourt area features stair-stepped mahogany bookshelves that rise toward the ceiling between the windows. In front of each window is a study alcove that seats six researchers. The overall effect of the design creates an environment reminiscent of the reading rooms in the great libraries of Europe.

The European Reading Room is the logical starting point for readers and researchers whose interest relates to European countries, including the Russian-speaking areas of Asia, but excluding Spain, Portugal, and the British Isles. (Researchers interested in Spain and Portugal should contact the Hispanic Reading Room; those working on the United Kingdom and Ireland should consult reference librarians in the Main Reading Room.)

Staffed by reference librarians and area specialists from the European Division, the European Reading Room contains a reference collection of approximately ten thousand volumes that includes dictionaries, encyclopedias, biographical, historical, and genealogical works, guides, directories, statistical yearbooks, atlases, specialized catalogs, and some monographs. The belles lettres section of the reading room features complete or collected works by major authors from nearly all European literatures.

Readers may access the online catalog of the Library of Congress from the European Reading Room and have books and bound periodicals from the general collections delivered to their desks. Study shelves for long-term research are available. Like other public reading rooms in the Library of Congress, the reading room offers free access to the World Wide Web. In addition, readers there may access World News Connection (the online version of the United States Foreign Broadcast Information Service), OCLC First Search, the American Bibliography of Slavic and East European Studies, and other on-line resources.

Access to current periodicals from throughout Europe is one of the most in-demand services of the reading room, which has custody of some 3,500 titles, including 250 newspapers. Recent issues of approximately 100 newspapers and journals from Western Europe are also available in the reading room. The Division's European Research Document Collection contains recent reports on Europe-related subjects issued by European research institutes and think tanks, and by official bodies such as the European Monetary Institute and the European Environment Agency.

In recent years the Library of Congress has invested heavily in special European collections on CD-ROM and microfiche. Recent acquisitions that are or soon will be available to researchers include, for example, the Catalogue generale de la Bibliotheque nationale de France, Internationale Bibliographie der Zeitschriftenliteratur, Bibliografia nazionale italiana, Doc-Theses, and a new edition of the Icelandic sagas.

To access special collections relating to Europe, researchers generally will need to use other reading rooms in the Library, such as the Geography and Map, Prints and Photographs, Microform, Newspaper and Current Periodical, and Rare Book and Special Collections Reading Rooms, or the Law Library. Area specialists and reference librarians in the European Reading Room can help direct researchers to collections in other parts of the Library and to design an overall research strategy.

In addition to staffing the European Reading Room, the European Division works with other units in the Library to build and maintain the European collections. These collections cover all European languages, but are especially comprehensive in major language areas such French, German, Italian, and Russian.

The European Division also sponsors a series of lectures and readings by well-known European writers and academics and American scholars working in the field of European studies. Recent speakers have included the Dutch writer Cees Nooteboom, three leading novelists from Norway (Jostein Gaarder, Roy Jacobsen, and Kjell Askildsen), the finalists and winner of the 1996 Strega literary prize from Italy (Alessandro Barbero, Melania Mazzucco, Margherita D'Amico, and Alain Elkan), and Professor Detlef Juncker, director of the German Historical Institute in Washington.

More information about the European Reading Room and the activities of the European Division may be found on the Division home page, at The Guide to the European Collections also can be found on the Division home page, and contains additional information about the collections.

Researchers interested in working in the European Reading Room-especially those from outside the Washington area-can get a head start on their research projects by consulting via the Internet the Library of Congress' online catalog, or by consulting in advance with reference librarians about particular materials needed. The European Division can be reached by calling either (202) 707-5414 or (202) 707-5858, or by writing to The Library of Congress, European Division, 101 Independence Avenue, S.E., Washington, DC 20540-4830.

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