The guides at the Library of Congress don’t advertise this but it’s quite easy to get access to the cool books and walk around (quietly!) in the main reading room.
Step 1: Be really into books.
Step 2: Fill out this pre-registration form. You can fill this out up to 2 weeks before you go. If you’re already in the Library of Congress don’t worry, you can fill this form out when you get your library card.
Step 3: Go to the Library of Congress; I suggest you go into the Jefferson Building first to see the Great Hall and the Minerva mosaic. There is an overlook of the main reading room that is open to anyone; if you’re satisfied with this overlook stop reading here.
Step 4: Otherwise, go and check your bag in the cloakroom near the entrance of the Library of Congress. No bags are allowed in any of the reading rooms. Remember to take your driver’s license or some form of state identification with you out of your bag.
Step 5: Take the elevate down to the cellar and follow the signs in the tunnel to the Madison Building.
Step 6: Take the elevator to the first floor and follow the signs to LM 140 (they close at 4:30pm and are only open Monday-Saturday).
Step 7: Get your reader registration card. Smile in your photo!
Step 8: Congratulations! You now have access to 150 million books. If you have a specific subject area you are interested in, there is a library assistant in LM 140 that can point you in the right direction. Make your way back into the tunnels and turn right to take the researcher only elevator.
Step 9: If you want to see the main reading room, take the elevator to the 1st floor and show your card to the guard. You can now look at the beautiful room and peruse the books in the shelves. BE QUIET IN THE READING ROOM and DO NOT TAKE PICTURES WITH YOUR CAMERA. There are researchers here trying to do actual work and you definitely should not disturb them.
Step 10: Might I suggest a visit to the Rare Books room? You can look at the Lincoln Bible or the papers of Susan B. Anthony or first editions of Charles Dickens or pretty much any other historic literary collection you can think of.