Sunday, January 15, 2006

Library of Congress

The Library of Congress was established on April 24, 1800, when President John Adams signed an act of Congress providing for the transfer of the seat of government from Philadelphia to the new capital city of Washington. The legislation appropriated $5,000 "for the purchase of such books as may be necessary for the use of Congress ..., and for fitting up a suitable apartment for containing them...." The original library was housed in the new Capitol until August 1814, when invading British troops set fire to the Capitol building, destroying the contents of the small (3,000 volumes) library.
Within a month, retired President Thomas Jefferson offered his personal library as a replacement. Jefferson had spent 50 years accumulating books, "putting by everything which related to America, and indeed whatever was rare and valuable in every science"; his library was considered to be one of the finest in the United States. Jefferson, who was heavily indebted, sought to use the proceeds of the sale of his books to satisfy his creditors. He anticipated controversy over the nature of his collection, which included books in foreign languages and volumes of philosophy, science, literature, and other topics not normally viewed as part of a legislative library. He wrote, "I do not know that it contains any branch of science which Congress would wish to exclude from their collection; there is, in fact, no subject to which a Member of Congress may not have occasion to refer."
In January 1815, Congress accepted Jefferson's offer, appropriating $23,950 for his 6,487 books, and the foundation was laid for a great national library. The Jeffersonian concept of universality, the belief that all subjects are important to the library of the American legislature, is the philosophy and rationale behind the comprehensive collecting policies of today's Library of Congress.

On December 24, 1851, there was a fire in the Library of Congress. The fire destroyed 35,000 books, an original portrait of Christopher Columbus, portraits of the first five US Presidents by Gilbert Stuart, and statues of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and Marquis de Lafayette.
Main Library of Congress Building at the start of the 20th century.The Library is now spread over three buildings in Washington, D.C.:
The Thomas Jefferson Building (between Independence Avenue and East Capitol Street on First Street SE), opened in 1897, and long the main building of the Library;
The John Adams Building (between Independence Avenue and East Capitol Street on 2nd Street SE), opened as an annex in 1938; and
The James Madison Memorial Building (between First and Second Streets on Independence Avenue SE), opened in 1981 as the new headquarters of the Library.
(Note: Between April 13, 1976 and June 13, 1980, the John Adams Building was known as the Thomas Jefferson Building.)
In late-November 2005, the Library announced intentions to launch the World Digital Library, digitally preserving books and other objects from all world cultures.

As the research arm of the United States Congress it is part of the United States Capitol Complex located in Washington, D.C.
With about 530 miles (850 km) of shelves it is one of the largest libraries in the world. It contains more than 130 million items, second only to the British Library (with over 150 million items). Its collections include:
more than 28 million cataloged books and other print materials in 470 languages;
more than 50 million manuscripts;
the largest rare book collection in North America, including a Gutenberg Bible; and
the world's largest collection of legal materials, films, maps, sheet music and sound recordings.


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