Library of Congress reaching out to younger readers

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WASHINGTON — If you walk inside the main building of the world’s largest library, you won’t see many books. There are marble floors, stained-glass windows, elaborate tiled ceilings and gold-leaf doors. The Library of Congress, 13-year-old Jack DiPaula said, feels “more like a museum” than the public library in his home town of Baltimore.

That’s not to say that it’s boring.

On a recent Saturday, Jack and his sister Reilly, 11, participated in a lively 45-minute tour given by Rachel Gordon, a British-born book lover with a green laser pointer and a knack for history.

Designed just for kids, the weekly tour is part of a wave of new young-adult offerings at the library, including expanded hours at the Young Readers Center.

The center is open weekdays and Saturdays, and features arts and crafts, shelves packed with comics and other books, author events, and several cheery librarians, all ready to help with school projects and research papers.

“Librarians are really the original search engine,” Carla Hayden, the Library of Congress’s new chief, told The Washington Post recently.

Hayden became the first female and first African-American librarian of Congress when she was sworn into office in September. She’s trying to make the library more accessible for kids in Washington and across the country.

You can explore and download historic documents and photographs on the library’s website, Hayden said — including notebooks and letters from figures such as civil rights leader Rosa Parks. Those can give kids “a fuller sense of history,” along with “a sense of what their own place in history can be.”

Hayden says she also hopes to bring history to the people by mounting traveling exhibitions, perhaps on a tractor-trailer truck that would carry copies of library artifacts across the country.

The library’s Thomas Jefferson Building, on Capitol Hill, contains some of the collection’s most interesting objects and much more than books. In addition to more than 38 million books and printed materials, the Library of Congress houses photographs, recordings, maps, comic books, baseball cards and gold recovered from a centuries-old Spanish shipwreck.