Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Origins of the Library of Congress

Thomas Jefferson was born on April 13, 1743 and died very patriotically on the Fourth of July in 1826. In between, he collected a lot of books, which ultimately launched a truly impressive institution. In honor of Jefferson turning 273, let's take a look at his library's legacy: The Library of Congress.

Have you ever visited the Library of Congress (affectionally abbreviated "the LoC") in Washington, D.C.? It's "the nation's first established cultural institution and the largest library in the world," and it serves as the unofficial national library of the United States. It also oversees the U.S. Copyright Office, among other things. 

In 1800, Congress decided that it needed a reference library. It spent $5,000 to stock the Capitol Building with its new collection, which unfortunately was burned and otherwise destroyed 14 years later by the British.

Former President Thomas Jefferson resourcefully suggested that his personal library be used as a replacement (if they paid for it, of course). Jefferson's interests were quite diverse, and his collection reflected that. Some people thought that a lot of the material didn't seem to be directly related to legislation. Jefferson, however, insisted "There is, in fact, no subject to which a Member of Congress may not have occasion to refer." The LoC has taken this as something of a mission statement and perhaps a challenge ever since. (source)

Congress eventually shelled out $23,950 for Jefferson's 6,487 volumes, which became the core around which the rest of the library grew. A lot of those originals were burned in 1851 (fires are really not great for libraries), but the survivors can still be viewed together in the LoC's Rare Book and Special Collections area. You can also browse a lot of the collection digitally on your iPad by clicking here

Today, the Library of Congress is definitely worth a visit when you're in D.C. 

Public-domain images from Wikimedia Commons. 

No comments:

Post a Comment