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Two major gifts to reimagine visitor experience and enhance photography collections at Library of Congress
Artist renderings show concepts for three core components that are central to the visitor experience plan. They include, a new learning lab, a ground level orientation center with a view of the Main Reading Room's dome and new exhibitions to feature the Library’s treasures. (Pure + Applied, Library of Congress)

WASHINGTON, DC.- A major gift by Wallis Annenberg and the Annenberg Foundation in Los Angeles will support the effort to reimagine the visitor experience at the Library of Congress. The foundation also announced that it is donating 1,000 photographic prints by about 250 contemporary photographers from its Annenberg Space for Photography exhibitions to the national library’s collections.

The Library is pursuing a multi-year plan to transform the experience of its nearly 2 million annual visitors, share more of its national treasures with the public and show how Library collections connect with visitors’ own creativity and research. The project is part of a strategic plan established by Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden to make the Library more user-centered for Congress, creators and learners of all ages.

"The Library of Congress is really the people's library — our oldest federal cultural institution and arguably our most important,” said Wallis Annenberg, chairman and CEO of the Annenberg Foundation. “That's why I'm so pleased to help the Library reimagine its visitor experience — to become more open and inclusive and interactive.”

The Annenberg Foundation’s gift follows a collaboration between the Library and the foundation that showcased the Library’s vast photography collection. A 2018 Los Angeles exhibition at the Annenberg Space for Photography featured more than 400 photographs from the Library, spanning three centuries of photography. The Library is planning a future photography exhibition, based on the Annenberg-curated show from 2018, along with a documentary film on the Library of Congress and its history, produced by the Annenberg Space for Photography.

“The nation’s library is honored to have the strong support of Wallis Annenberg and the Annenberg Foundation as we enhance the experience for our visitors,” said Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden. “We know that visitors will find new connections to the Library of Congress through the incredible photography collections and countless other treasures held here to document our nation’s history and creativity.”

To enhance the Library’s holdings, the foundation is also giving the Library photographic prints for long-term preservation from 10 other exhibitions hosted at the photography museum. The Library holds one of the world’s largest photography collections with about 14 million photographs and more than 1 million images digitized and available online.

“I'm thrilled that we're able to make so many of the Annenberg Space for Photography’s images a part of the Library’s extraordinary collection,” Annenberg said. “The Photo Space was founded with a focus on the visitor experience — on engaging our community with astonishing works of art. So even as the Photo Space closes its doors, I feel like we're opening a new one with the Library of Congress and letting even more people experience these stunning images."

Celebrating its 220th year as a center of knowledge and preservation of the nation’s cultural heritage, the Library aims to bring more of its collections out of the vaults and into public spaces and online presentations.

Three core components are central to the visitor experience plan. These include a new ground-level orientation gallery in the Thomas Jefferson Building to help visitors navigate the Library and understand its history, a new learning lab to engage and inspire visitors and new exhibitions to feature the Library’s treasures.

The Annenberg gift will build on the significant investments of Congress and private philanthropy in the Library’s infrastructure. Earlier in 2020, philanthropist David Rubenstein announced a lead gift of $10 million to support the visitor experience plan. Design work is now underway for the project.

The visitor experience project has continued support from Congress, with $20 million appropriated so far as part of this public-private partnership.

While Congress has invested generously in the Library over its history since 1800, private philanthropy also has played an important role in the development of the Library and other cultural institutions. Private sector donors have funded exhibitions and programs, including the creation of the Library’s John W. Kluge Center and Kluge Prize for Achievement in the Study of Humanity, which is currently honoring political theorist Danielle Allen, as well as creation of the Library’s Packard Campus for Audio-Visual Conservation in Culpeper, Virginia.

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