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Library of Congress

Congressional Research Service, Collections, Copyrights, American Folklife Center, Center For The Book, National Preservation Program

The Library of Congress, located in Washington, D.C., is the world's largest library, with nearly 110 million items in almost every language and format stored on 532 miles of bookshelves. Its collections constitute the world's most comprehensive record of human creativity and knowledge. Founded in 1800 to serve the reference needs of Congress, the library has grown from an original collection of 6,487 books to a current accumulation of more than 16 million books and more than 120 million other items and collections, from ancient Chinese wood-block prints to compact discs.

The Library of Congress was created by Act of April 24, 1800 (2 Stat. 56), which provided for the removal of the seat of government to the new capital city of Washington, D.C. (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania had formerly served as the nation's capital), and for $5,000 "for the purchase of such books as may be necessary for the use of Congress … and for putting up a suitable apartment for containing them therein." The library was housed in the new capitol until August 1814, when British troops invaded Washington, D.C., and burned the capitol building, destroying nearly three thousand volumes of the small congressional library. The first major book collection acquired by Congress was the personal library of former president THOMAS JEFFERSON, purchased in 1815 at a cost of $23,950. In 1851 a second fire destroyed two-thirds of the library's accumulated holdings of 35,000 volumes, including a substantial portion of the Jefferson library. Congress voted a massive appropriation to replace the lost books, and by the end of the Civil War, the collections of the library had grown to 82,000 volumes.

The librarian of Congress is appointed by the president with the advice and consent of the Senate. In 1864 President ABRAHAM LINCOLN appointed as librarian Ainsworth Rand Spofford, who opened the library to the public and greatly expanded its collections. Spofford successfully advocated a change in the COPYRIGHT law so that the library would receive two free copies of every book, map, chart, musical composition, engraving, print, and photograph submitted for copyright. Under subsequent legislation (2 U.S.C.A. §§ 131–168d) the library's acquisitions included free copies of the Congressional Record and of all U.S. statutes, which Spofford parlayed into document exchanges with all foreign nations that had diplomatic relations with the United States.

Soon the Capitol's library rooms, attics, and hallways were filled with the library's growing collections, necessitating construction of the library's first permanent building, the Thomas Jefferson Building, which opened in 1897. The JOHN ADAMS Building was added by Congress in 1939, and the JAMES MADISON Memorial Building

The Reading Room in the rotunda of the Library of Congress building, 1901.

in 1980. These three buildings provide nearly 65 acres of floor space.

Supported mainly by appropriations from Congress, the library also uses income derived from funds received from foundations and other private sources and administered by the Library of Congress Trust Fund Board, as well as monetary gifts presented for direct application (2 U.S.C.A. §§ 154–163). Many of the greatest items in the library have come directly from individual U.S. citizens or were purchased with money donated by them. Gifts that have enriched the cultural heritage of the nation include the private papers of President Lincoln from his son ROBERT TODD LINCOLN; rare Stradivarius violins used for public performances; the Lessing J. Rosenwald collection of illustrated books and incunabula (early works of art or industry); Joseph Pennell's contribution of Whistler drawings and letters; and hundreds of thousands of letters and documents from musicians, artists, scientists, writers, and public figures.


Copyright; Copyright, International.

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