The Library of Congress was created on April 25, 1800. In a Congressional bill that provided for the transfer of our nation’s capital from Philadelphia to Washington, there was a provision for a reference library containing “such books as may be necessary for the use of Congress — and for putting up a suitable apartment for containing them therein …” Originally the library was housed in the Capitol building, until British troops burned it in 1814. Thomas Jefferson replaced it with his own personal library: nearly 6,500 books, the result of 50 years’ worth of “putting by everything which related to America, and indeed whatever was rare and valuable in every science.” I have always loved his quote “I cannot live without books.” Indeed a lovely friend just gave it as a plaque to me and it hangs on my computer.
First opened to the public in 1897, the Library of Congress is now the largest library in the world. It houses more than 144 million items, including 33 million catalogued books in 460 languages; more than 63 million manuscripts; the largest rare book collection in North America; and the world’s largest collection of films, legal materials, maps, sheet music, and sound recordings.
It is a fabulous place to visit, to do research (read the author of My Name is Mary Sutter experiences in the Library of Congress), to just be aware of our nation’s history.