Bands were playing this weekend at the entrance plaza of the Library of Congress Jefferson Building here, to celebrate the reopening of the Main Reading Room.
It's a celebration worthy of celebrating. The Main Reading Room always deserves honoring but especially now, after three years of downtime, the first extended closing since the Jefferson Building was completed in 1897. The fabulous chamber, with its coffered dome, arcades and handsome rounded arches, rich materials and finely crafted ornament, and mahogany readers' desks in circles row on row, is a truly elevating interior space, one of the nation's best.Its reopening also more or less marks the halfway point of an extensive, $81.5 million restoration-renovation of the Jefferson and Adams buildings. The latter, a stone-clad Greco-deco structure completed in 1939, is located directly opposite the Jefferson. Work on the two buildings has proceeded at a poky pace - design was initiated in 1981, construction (supervised by the Architect of the Capitol) began in 1985, and completion is promised by 1995.
The good news is that, judging by the Main Reading Room and other semipublic places in the Jefferson Building, the end results by and large will be first rate - no small recompense for the time, money and effort spent. Like most terrific old buildings, these two were sorely in need both of loving care to repair the predictable inflictions of time and heavy use, and of significant alterations to equip them for continued good service in a fast-changing world.
All desks were wired for portable computers, a new use that unfortunately necessitated positioning a layer of glass on the desk surface. (The feel of the wood was one of the great appeals of working there.)