The National Book Festival: A First-Timer’s Takeaways

A Little Free Library assembled in real time!

Before this weekend, whenever anyone brought up the Library of Congress National Book Festival, I would sheepishly have to admit I’d never been. Looks of shock and disbelief were the usual response, and I’d give a lame spiel about not wanting to brave the large crowds on the National Mall in extreme heat or rain. Time and time again, I would vow to go the following year, and this past Saturday, I finally came through.

The Library of Congress moved the festival to the Washington Convention Center last year and general consensus was that it worked much better in the new venue. Unaffected by weather, easier to navigate — the whole event was more organized and enjoyable. With most of my excuses eliminated by the location change, I felt it my duty as a reader and librarian to set my agoraphobic tendencies aside and get my bookish butt to the festival.

Kate Beaton took audience guidance as she drew live onstage.
Kate Beaton took audience guidance as she drew live onstage.

There was a hiccup right when arrived — as soon as I got to the Convention Center, I got in line to see Colson Whiteheadbut found out 15 minutes later that I was waiting to see Kristin Hannah — but overall, it was a great time. I saw mostly children’s authors (Melissa Sweet, Kate Beaton, and Aaron Becker) but I did squeeze in Justin Cronin, author of The Passage trilogy, just to remind myself that I am, in fact, an adult. I also entered a drawing for a Little Free Library (my fingers are crossed!) and talked the info booth folks to give me way more posters than they should have. Overall, I deem the experience a success!

Here are a few of my takeaways for anyone interested in going next year:
  1. Before getting in line, ask staff at the stage entrance if it’s for the author you actually want to see.
  2. Wear good walking the shoes. The Convention Center is huge and the festival spans all three buildings.
  3. Bring only one bag. Security is tight and guards search bags any time you exit one building and enter another.
  4. Get in line for popular authors at least half an hour before their stage time.
  5. Do you research ahead of time by looking at the author schedule and venue map on the festival website. Choose the author you want to see during each time block along with a couple back-ups, keeping in mind where all the stages are in relation to each other.
  6. Take the Metro (Green Line to Mt. Vernon stop). For once, the train ran smoothly and I was pleasantly surprised to find that the escalators lead right to one of the Convention Center’s entrances
  7. Download the festival app. I didn’t realize there was an app until I got there, but now that I’ve fooled around with it a bit, I think it would have been really useful.
  8. Give the jerk chicken in the food court a taste. It was unexpectedly spicy and delicious!

Have you’ve been to the National Book Festival? Leave tips or advice for future attendees in the comments below!

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