14 fun, specific, and surprising libraries to visit in DC during ALA Annual

Violet Fox

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Since 2000, Washington, DC, has been one of the most selected cities for ALA Annual and Midwinter, having been the conference site three times. Chicago has hosted the most, of course, with six. New Orleans has had four in the past 20 years. Boston, Philadelphia, and Seattle have had three each. But considering that DC has more than 20 million visitors every year—and that many of us visited as students—I’m betting you’ve been to the nation’s capital before.

If you haven’t, there are some major attractions that I’m sure you’re interested in, and all kinds of tourist guides and lists to get you started. But if you’ve been before—or are looking for some library-specific ideas a bit off the beaten path—we’ve put together an “insiders’ guide” to some unique, lesser-known libraries in the capital area for you to visit during ALA Annual 2019, June 20–25.

As residents of Washington, DC, we’ve had a bit more time to explore. And we’ve grouped our recommendations into three categories: federal libraries, private libraries, and libraries related to non-English materials.

One word of advice, regardless of where you plan to go, check the website or call ahead. Hours of operation for some of the smaller institutions can be unique, some require reservations, and even larger venues may change their times in the summer.

Federal libraries

As the nation’s capital, DC is, of course, home to many national and federal libraries. Here are a few that we think don’t get enough attention, or that might be of specific interest to librarian visitors.

Private libraries

While public and academic libraries often take center stage, there are some great private collections you can visit while in town, too.

  • Dumbarton Oaks Library & Archives. Specializing in “Byzantine, Garden and Landscape, and Pre-Columbian studies.”
  • Library and the Archive of the Franciscan Monastery. Dedicated to the work of the Franciscans in the Holy Land, the library is attached to a chapel, catacombs, and gardens. A great, peaceful break from many of the “standard” touristy attractions.
  • The Society of the Cincinnati. A must-visit for Revolutionary War buffs, the library focuses on the military and naval history of the eighteenth century.
  • The Phillips Collection Library. Billed as “America’s First Museum of Modern Art,” the library contains about 9,500 books on nineteenth- and twentieth-century European and American art.
  • Folger Shakespeare Library. World’s largest collection of materials related to Shakespeare and his works.

Non-English-language libraries

If you have a personal or professional interest in non-English collections, there’s a lot to do in the capital. Here are a few we think stand out.

Whatever you do and wherever you go in Washington, DC, during your ALA trip, we hope you have a great time and enjoy all of the wonderful professional and personal activities. And maybe we’ll bump into each other at one of the OCLC events, too.


P.S.: Thanks to Alex Kyrios, my fellow Dewey Decimal Classification Editor, for his help on research for this post. Also, if you are heading to ALA Annual this year, swing by the Dewey Update Breakfast to learn about the latest updates to the Dewey Decimal Classification system and other Dewey news. I’d love to see you. Sign up here.