Monday, July 14, 2008

easier words

I thought about it earlier but forgot to include it once I got on my little rant.

Saturday was my first day working as a volunteer at the information desk in the Library of Congress (more badges, better access). Since we’re at the height of tourist season there’s little rest during the seven-hour shift: directing folks, handing out tidbits of knowledge, and passing on my life’s wisdom. Here are my findings:

1. People want to see the books. They want to go into the main reading room (see picture above) and yank some literature off the shelf. Unfortunately, the rooms are for researchers and “readers” only. You can’t very well have loads of tour groups wandering the aisles while Vaclav Havel is doing research.

2. The most asked questions, not necessarily in order: Where are the books? Where is the restroom? Where is a drinking fountain?

3. Any family that comes through security between 3:30pm and 5pm, when we close, generally looks as if they’ve nearly completely some type of vacation marathon. It’s close to 95 degrees outside, they’ve been beaten by the Sun, they’ve walked five miles, visited four Smithsonian museums, had a bad lunch near the Mall (there’s little choice), and they’re trying desperately to finish the Library of Congress and Supreme Court before going back to the hotel and dying.

4. I had at least a half-dozen patrons ask some form of this question, “My kids want to see the room from National Treasure, where is it?” A few asked to see the Declaration of Independence. Unfortunately, I had to send them a mile back down the Mall to the National Archives to see if Nicholas Cage has put it back.

5. I made dinner reservations for at least two couples who had restaurants in mind but didn’t actually know where they were or if they’d be crowded. I’m nice like that.

What’s most amazing, to be serious for a minute, is just how nice the visitors can be. I met some very interesting people who had specific pieces in mind and were so happy to get a chance to actually see them – they come back and thanked me. I had any number of people coming in looking for a rare book that had been published by an ancestor – they managed to get cards for the reading room and were able to review the books in peace. I had people from just about every country on Earth wander in for the tours or a quick look at the Great Hall. I was also working with a woman who’s lived in D.C. since 1942, so during lulls in traffic I learned a ton about how the District has changed in 65 years.

I’m thinking about training to be a Docent at the Library this fall. It’s a two-day a week, 14-week training course that gives you the deep, deep history of the Library and then allows you to be a public, private, or Congressional tour guide.

On a sad note, mighty Jefferson rat passed on yesterday after an nearly week-long tussle with ill health. He did his best but it wasn’t anything he was ever going to overcome.

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