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Library of Congress Exhibit Is Truckin’

Abigail and Josh Van Gelder spent Sept. 25 on the National Mall, explaining various parts of the Library of Congress’ newest exhibit to curious National Book Festival visitors.

Two days later, the docents continued to do their jobs, but this time in Winchester, Va. And on Sept. 30, it was off to Cumberland, Md.

The LOC’s newest exhibit isn’t at the Library on Independence Avenue. Instead, the Gateway to Knowledge is inside an 18-wheel trailer truck. It’s designed to introduce the LOC’s vast collections to people who aren’t able to visit Washington, D.C., spokesman Matt Raymond said. The plan is to bring the exhibit to 60 places in the Midwest and the South through May.

“We want to bring a taste of what the Library of Congress has to offer to the communities,” he said.

The exhibit, which includes a multimedia display, computer terminals and presentations of the LOC’s history, came about as an idea of Abby and Emily Rapoport, the granddaughters of two members of the LOC’s private sector advisory board, Raymond said. The two women approached LOC staff with the concept that the Library could be brought to people and places outside Washington, including the Midwest, where they both attended school. They donated $1 million for the creation of the project.

From there, staffers decided what to include in Gateway and how best to present it. Initial plans called for the exhibits to be packed up and shipped from place to place. But that idea morphed when staffers realized that some communities might not have the resources to set up exhibits. Thus, the idea of a mobile exhibit was born.

In the past week, the 18-wheeler has traveled nearly 1,000 miles and made stops in Winchester, Cumberland and Charleston, W.Va. This is only the beginning. Gateway will visit four more locations, all in Ohio, during the next two weeks. The rest of the destinations are still being determined by the LOC.

The LOC’s Congressional relations office is working with the Library’s state affiliates as well as with schools, public libraries and Members’ offices to decide where the exhibit will go next.

“It’s going to hit a lot of states,” Raymond said.

The funding for the project covers the 60 stops that the Library is advertising, and those places will be visited by May. After that, those who worked on the project will meet to re-evaluate whether the Gateway to Knowledge will continue and where it might go. If the project is a success, it may visit other places in the country, including the New England and West regions.

Abigail Van Gelder, who has worked on two other similar traveling exhibits for other museums, said the Gateway has had a warm reception from the visitors who have seen it so far. Her role as docent involves anything from answering questions to troubleshooting computer problems and doing some maintenance work on the 18-wheeler.

“It’s nice to share this with other people,” she said. “I’ve seen so much enthusiasm so far. I can only imagine what the next several months will bring.”

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