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Library of Congress

Library of Congress
Library of Congress

© Diliff

Established in 1800 through an act of Congress, the Library of Congress originally held 3,000 volumes, and today it is the largest library in the world with more than 138 million items, and increasing by 10,000 more daily. The library is a phenomenal research resource and a compendium of amazing historical documents including a Gutenberg Bible purchased in 1930 and one of three perfect copies on vellum in the world. The library also contains first drafts of the Declaration of Independence and Lincoln's Gettysburg Address.

Some interesting numbers: the library contains 650 miles of bookshelves, and the collections break down to something like 32 million books and other print materials, 2.9 million recordings, 12.5 million photographs, 5.3 million maps, 5.5 million pieces of sheet music and 61 million manuscripts.

The Library of Congress occupies three buildings on Capitol Hill. The Thomas Jefferson Building (1897) is the original separate Library of Congress building, the John Adams Building was built in 1938, and the James Madison Memorial Building was completed in 1981.

The original library, established with $5,000 appropriated by legislation, was housed in the new Capitol until August 1814, when invading British troops set fire to the Capitol Building, burning and pillaging the contents of the small 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. 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.

Some of the most historic and treasured items from the Library's vast collection are on display within the exhibitions that comprise "The Library of Congress Experience" in the Library's Thomas Jefferson Building, including the Declaration of Independence, George Washington's copy of the Constitution, the map that first used the term "America" for the New World, and Thomas Jefferson's original library, the basis for the Library of Congress. The Gutenberg Bible and the Giant Bible of Mainz are on permanent display on the first floor of the Great Hall. Other changing exhibits are mounted in public areas and reading rooms in the three buildings.

Attraction Information

  • Hours:
  • Visitor Center: Monday through Saturday: 10am to 5:30pm
  • Admission:
  • Free
  • Metro Stop:
  • Blueline or Orangeline to the Capitol South Station
  • Contact:
  • Location: 101 Independence Avenue Southeast, Washington DC
  • Phone: 202-707-8000
  • Website:
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