Library of Congress
David M. Rubenstein Treasures Gallery

Washington D.C., USA


The Library of Congress needs little introduction. Now into its third century, the USA’s oldest federal cultural institution is also the largest library in the world, as well as an active research institution.



Despite a rocky start when much of the original collection was lost as British forces burned Washington, D.C. in the War of 1812; the Library has since amassed a vast and highly eclectic collection, comprising millions of items. They tell many stories of human resilience and creativity, across time and place. With such a deep cultural well to draw from, it made good sense for the Library to create a permanent public installation that features a rotating, themed collection of artifacts from the collections. In mid-2024, this idea becomes a reality with the inauguration of a new gallery space.

Display cases are delivered by crane to the Thomas Jefferson Building, the oldest structure in the Library of Congress complex in Washington, D.C., on March 3, 2024.

The first iteration of the exhibition includes a selection of display items that demonstrate the incredible breadth and global significance of the Library’s holdings, both ancient and modern. They range from cuneiform tablets dating from 2200–1900 B.C.E. to The Sounds of Earth, the golden record created for the Voyager I and II space missions.

In 1977, a pair of phonograph records containing recordings of life on Earth were launched aboard the twin Voyager space probes.

Image © The New Yorker

Also on display are personal items belonging to the famous and the lesser known, such as the exceedingly rare example of a crystal flute, made for the fourth U.S. President James Madison by Claude Laurent of Paris. Also on view will be two copies of the Gettysburg Address, handwritten by Abraham Lincoln in 1863. There is additionally a small, poignant collection of objects that were in Lincoln’s pockets on the fateful night he was assassinated just two years later—including his wallet, spectacles, and a watch fob. Within every exhibition case visitors can experience storied fragments of human history.

Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden helps to install the contents of President Abraham Lincoln's pockets from the night he was assassinated.

Image © Shawn Miller | Library of Congress

For this exhibition, Goppion produced a unique free-standing structure that incorporates four large display cases (1m wide x 4m tall x 7m long with an overall footprint of 24m x 5m.) A six-station interactive AV table, 10 video projectors, and two enormous SEG graphic panels are seated in and around the structure. Goppion is accustomed to working in historic buildings, but the unique architecture of the Library presented special challenges. With a historic, detailed marble floor and plaster walls, there could be no permanent connections to the building architecture, requiring the exhibit structure to be fully self-supporting with a minimal weight impact due to floor load capacities. As always, Goppion’s engineering team developed a creative approach the satisfied the performance and safety needs of the project.

The new "Collecting Memories: Treasures from the Library of Congress" exhibit opens for a press preview, June 10, 2024.

The cases have been specifically designed with a highly flexible interior display system—essential for rotations of what are primarily paper documents. The long and narrow dimension of the gallery required exhibition cases with a unique interior design to display a multitude of objects within a very shallow depth. Different internal accessories confer huge additional flexibility for the installation; another key requirement when dealing with such a wide range of object sizes, materials, and their specific display needs. Unsurprisingly, the Library has a premier conservation department with strict requirements for collection display, performance, and consistency.

Goppion worked closely with the Library and their contract design firm (The Graphics Office), their linear media designer and producer (Batwin+Robin), and interactive experience designer and producer (Upswell), to hone the concept into a fully integrated exhibition gallery that met the aesthetic and performance expectations of all stakeholders. This was possible due to the depth of knowledge gained through Goppion’s past casework projects, plus the additional range of experience the entire Goppion team brought to the project in listening carefully to the client, then bringing solutions to the table.

The results of this fruitful collaboration are free and open to the public beginning later this year.

A construction crew loads materials for the upcoming Treasures Gallery exhibit into the Library, March 3, 2024.

Image © Shawn Miller | Library of Congress.

Image © Shawn Miller | Library of Congress