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Our holdings include hundreds of glass and film negatives/transparencies that we've scanned ourselves; in addition, many other photos on this site were extracted from reference images (high-resolution tiffs) in the Library of Congress research archive. (To query the database click here.) They are adjusted, restored and reworked by your webmaster in accordance with his aesthetic sensibilities before being downsized and turned into the jpegs you see here. All of these images (including "derivative works") are protected by copyright laws of the United States and other jurisdictions and may not be sold, reproduced or otherwise used for commercial purposes without permission.

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[REV 25-NOV-2014]

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Library of Congress: 2007

Library of Congress: 2007

Washington, D.C., 2007. "Main Reading Room, Library of Congress Thomas Jefferson Building. View from above showing researcher desks." Photograph (made with a Phase One P45+ digital back) by Carol Highsmith. View full size.

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Then and now

Being as I work at LoC let me offer a few comments.

Yes the angles for these photos are from different directions. The more recent photo points to the current entrance to the reading room (facing 2nd Street) the older photo is directed at the original entrance (facing 1st street) which leads to the Great Hall.

The reason the newer photo has no people is because it was taken after hours while the other was taken when the reading room was open. Also, the 1905 photo was taken when there was no Adams or Madison Building - hence most if not all, research was done in the room as opposed to the 21 others the Library now has. As an example if you notice on the bottom left of the 1905 photo what looks to be music stands, that reference is done in a different reading room in the Madison Building now.

Two big changes. First, is that the card catalog (not visible in the 1905 picture) is no longer in the reading room itself but in one of the alcoves and second, I don't think there was carpet on the floor in the 1905 picture.

One more curiosity that isn't around. If you notice in the 1905 photo at the center bottom the semicircular desk. The lower portion is for reference which is now Book Service (reference is closer to the entrance and not in the Main room itself anymore) and above where all the papers are, there used to be someone - affiliate with the Reference function - that sat up there and oversaw the reading room. I don't remember the name of that position but no one sits up there anymore. As an FYI this sits above the staircase that Nicolas Cage's character comes up from in "National Treasure 2."

Washington, D.C.

I don't believe Aladdin's genie could have come up with a more elaborate room. Sure is pretty.

Different Statues and Messages

Notice how different statues and messages are now than back in 1905. I wonder where the original statues went.

[As noted below, the photos show opposite sides of the room. - Dave]

I am on my knees

This is an awe-inspiring photo. I work in a library and believe me, if ours looked like this, I would NEVER leave. This is the Versailles of libraries!

180 degrees of separation

Same room, but showing opposite directions, which is why only the older photo shows the clock.

Fun with LOC time travel

I couldn't resist but play with a mouseover of these two on my history blog. (If this comes of as spammy I'm sorry; by all means go ahead and delete it.)



No one seems to notice that no one is in the room. The internet wins.

Buh-bye film

I am impressed. The color photo is quite a bit clearer and more detailed than the analog version. Digital has come a long way in the past 20 years.

No people

This is probably the most magnificent public space in Washington. But it has become less user-friendly over the years, as money has gone into technology rather than people. So perhaps it's appropriate that this beautiful photo shows a room all lit up and empty.

Here's an even bigger one-

Max Lyons shot a gigapixel photo of the same view in 2004 btw, composed from 243 individual photos-

Phase One digital back

The photo was made using some expensive equipment -- a Phase One P45+ digital back retails for around $27,000. And that's just the image-sensing part of the camera. It doesn't include the front of the camera -- lens, etc. This particular back seems made to mate with a Hasselblad H series body.


Just, wow. The comparison between this 2007 image and the one from 1905 is absolutely fascinating. Wow.

Different sides?

They look to be taken from opposite angles. The statues, and quotes on the plaques don't match up. Missing a clock in the 2007, as well as the large double doors. Extensive renovation, or a 180˚?

Nonetheless amazing.

Deja View

All over again. Great pair of pictures.


I've been in this reading room many times; and even viewed it from the place where the photo was taken. Outstanding photo, especially the full sized version. Comparing it with the 1905 photo was mind blowing: no real change except for lighting and computer monitors in the 2007 version.

SHORPY OLD PHOTO ARCHIVE | History in HD is a vintage photo archive featuring thousands of high-definition images from the 1850s to 1960s. (Available as fine-art prints from the Shorpy Archive.) The site is named after Shorpy Higginbotham, a teenage coal miner who lived 100 years ago.

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