The Library of Congress

On April 24, 1800, President John Adams set aside $5,000 for “such books as may be necessary for the use of Congress” as the nation’s capital was moved from Philadelphia to Washington. The first batch of these books arrived from London in 1801 and were stored in the Capitol building. The first catalog for the young Library of Congress in April of 1802 referenced 964 books and nine maps. The Library continued to grow

until 1814 when the British army burned Washington D.C., and the Capitol, during the War of 1812. Three thousand volumes were lost that day.

After all of the work that President Thomas Jefferson had put into expanding the Library during his eight years in office from 1801 to 1809, its loss was quite shocking. He responded by selling his personal library of 6,487 volumes—the largest and best in the country—to Congress in order to replenish its stores. This purchase both doubled the size of the Library and broadened its scope. Jefferson said there is “no subject to which a member of Congress may not have occasion to refer.” In 1851, there was another fire that that destroyed about 37,000 of its 55,000 volumes, including two-thirds of Jefferson’s library.

Library of Congress Jefferson Building (from the Library of Congress website)

Due to the efforts of Ainsworth Rand Spofford, the LibrarianCongress from 1867 to 1897, the collection continued to expand after the Civil War. It grew to the point that a twenty-six-year construction project was begun in 1871 with the goal of getting the Library into its own building. It was moved out of the Capitol in 1897. By the 20th century, the Library of Congress was the unspoken national library of the U.S. and one of the largest in the world.

Today, the Library of Congress is housed in the massive Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, and James Madison Memorial buildings, and contains over 164 million items from all over the world in over forty languages: about 38 million books and 70 million manuscripts, as well as 3.6 million audio recordings, 5.5 million maps, 14 million photos, 8.1 million pieces of sheet music, and graphics. The Library receives about 15,000 items every weekday and adds about 12,000 to the shelves daily, most of which come through the copyright registration process.

The Library of Congress does its best to preserve history and culture so that knowledge may be kept available. It prides itself on providing “a rich, diverse and enduring source of knowledge to inform, inspire and engage” people in their “intellectual and creative endeavors.” The Thomas Jefferson Building is open to visitors between 8:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m., Monday through Saturday. You can also visit their website or any of their social media outlets, including Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest, and YouTube to learn more.