Thursday, September 22, 2005

Where am I?

I'm fond of idiosyncrasies: organic, sometimes chaotic growths that seem to have no rhyme nor reason. I encounter them fairly frequently in some of the bureaucratic policies and arbitrary rules that govern the way we do things here at work. I particularly appreciate architectural oddities and especially ones involving what librarians call "signage."

Here's what stirs this little thought: Tuesday I was signed up to attend a training session in our Adams Building. The room number was given as G-42. The easiest way to get there from my office is via a tunnel that takes one to the bottom floor of Adams. Unfortunately, the Adams elevators don't show a floor "G" or Ground. The buttons are labeled (from bottom to top): C, B, 1, 2, 3, 4. It turns out that Adams floor B (basement) is also G (ground). The doors on that level are labeled G though the elevator says B.

Adams has other such perplexities. Though that bank of elevators tops out at 4, the building actually has a 5th floor, a kind of penthouse that is smaller than the rest of the building. You can only get to it via the bank of elevators on the east side of the building; not the west side, which is the side from which you access Adams from the other two buildings.

My own building, Madison, doesn't have very confusing floor numbering, but it is inconsistent with the others. Where the bottom of Adams is its cellar, the bottom of Madison is its sub-basement. And where Adams combines basement and ground floor together, Madison has a basement above the sub-basement, then its ground floor. And where Adams has its ground floor at street level, Madison has its street level at its first floor (at least for its main entrance).

When I worked in publishing many years ago, I arranged to have a scholar's desk in our Jefferson Building (then called the main building). These desks were in the stacks. You can't get them any more. I felt like quite an insider, particularly because quite a bit of arcane knowledge was needed to locate the desk and the stack areas around it. Jefferson has two main floors plus cellar, basement, and attic. Most of its stairways and elevators only take you from cellar to second floor. The stack elevators are much more interesting. They are labeled with the main floors plus the deck floors, the areas of where books are shelved. The number of decks is bizarre: Deck 1 is on top and the lowest deck, Deck 49, is at the bottom. Above Deck 1 is a smaller attic deck area with stack levels that are identified by letters and go the opposite way: starting with A on the lowest level and going up to C. The elevator numbers show all these plus the regular floor numbers so the sequence is C, 49, 48, 47, B, 46, 45, 44, 1, 43, 42, etc. Very interesting. No?

Here is a link to a short history of the buildings and some shots of the three buildings. The photo captions are the ones that appear in the history.
‘Suitable Apartments’, The Library’s Buildings and Spaces, 1800-2000, BY JOHN Y. COLE. April 2000.

The Thomas Jefferson Building shortly after opening; construction engineer Bernard R. Green (1843-1914) played a major role in the construction of the Jefferson Building from 1888 until its completion in 1897 — even designing its bookstacks — then served as superintendent of the Library building and grounds until his death.

Construction on the extension of the Jefferson Building’s east side, from 1933.

Workers look out at the Jefferson Building from a floor of the James Madison Memorial Building, under construction in 1974. The building was dedicated in 1980.

We've expanded beyond the three original buildings and now have a Taylor Street Annex, for the Division of the Blind and Physically Handicapped, a warehouse at Landover, a motion picture film preservation lab at Wright-Patterson AFB in Ohio, a huge and ever growing offsite storage facility at Ft. Meade, and a new film, video, and sound recording center being constructed in Culpeper, VA.

Here's are a few "fascinating facts" from the LC web sites: "The Library of Congress is the largest library in the world, with more than 130 million items on approximately 530 miles of bookshelves. The collections include more than 29 million books and other printed materials, 2.7 million recordings, 12 million photographs, 4.8 million maps, 5 million music items and 58 million manuscripts."

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