Getting and Using Your Library of Congress Reader Card

With its massive selection of special collections, rare reference materials, and enormous quiet reading rooms, the Library of Congress (LOC) has much to offer those who make the trip into D.C. to visit it. But many of these benefits can only be utilized by having the LOC’s own library card, called a Reader Card. Read on to find out how you can get your LOC Reader Card and what you can do with it.

You will need your LOC Reader Card to utilize almost all services at the LOC other than simply visiting the public areas open to tourists. This is because the LOC is designated as the “library of last resort” for the United States; it exists to preserve copies of books and other media if they are destroyed or lost at other libraries, so they take very good care of their collections. LOC does not check books out to customers in the manner of a regular library, although it may loan its materials to other libraries or educational institutions if requested. Many researchers schedule time at the LOC, but even the act of reading materials on site requires a Reader Card.

Save Time and Pre-register Online

It’s a good idea to go through the Reader Card pre-registration process before making your LOC visit. You can pre-register for your LOC card here. Filling out the pre-registration will allow LOC staff to work on the final step, which must be done at the library itself, much more rapidly. For pre-registration, you will need to list your name, current address, address as it will appear on photo ID, and at least one phone number. After pre-registration is complete, it’s time to visit the library itself. 

Getting There

You can use the Virginia Railway Express and the DC Metro to get to the Library of Congress. Take the VRE northbound. From L'Enfant Plaza Metro Station (adjacent to the L’Enfant Plaza VRE stop), take either the Blue Line or the Silver Line towards Largo Town Center, but exit at Capitol South Metro Station. Then, walk a few blocks to either the Jefferson or Adams building. Once you’re at the Library itself, go to Room LM 133 in the Madison Building or Room LJ 139 in the Jefferson Building. If you pre-registered, you will need only a valid driver’s license, state-issued ID, or passport to obtain your LOC Reader Card.

Enjoy Your Visit

Having the LOC card allows you to view many fascinating resources. You can obtain most materials within the LOC’s collection, and, though you cannot check them out of the library, you can read and study them in the LOC’s wonderful reading rooms! The LOC reading rooms are very quiet, with a strictly enforced “no talking” policy, computer terminals to aid in reading and research, and large windows to ensure an adequate light source for a long read. 

You can also find a wide variety of special collections once you have the LOC card, ranging from the Audubon “Birds of America” collection of plates to an archival set of Dell paperbacks to the personal library of Ralph Ellison. No matter what your interest, you’re sure to find something fascinating at the Library of Congress.

Time-saving Tips

  • You can’t simply pick items you want off the shelves at LOC as you would at a public library; you must request the item(s) from the library staff and have them deliver your choices to you. This can potentially take an hour to 90 minutes, unless you make a request before you visit via the Advance Reserve Service, in which case the necessary steps will have already been done, and you won’t have to wait in a queue. 
  • LOC provides its floor plans online, so you can find which rooms and materials you want to use in advance as well. 
  • When you use LOC’s online Ask a Librarian service, the question will always be routed to a subject specialist in order to better help you find relevant information. This service is available remotely whether or not you have a Reader Card.
  • LOC offers orientation classes, both for a general overview and targeted to specific collections. You will also find collection guides online.
  • Be aware that you may have to check some of your personal belongings in a cloakroom while visiting the facilities.
  • Consult LOC's Information for Researchers page for additional details, including their laptop and accessibility policies.

The Library of Congress has much to offer visitors of educational, historical, and architectural value. If you filled out your pre-registration, you will be ready to start using this national treasure much faster! Enjoy the bounty of our nation’s largest library collection with your LOC card, and explore a world of enlightenment and literature.