The Library of Congress celebrates its 215th birthday today. Though not the oldest library in the United States (this honor belongs to the Darby Free Library in Darby Pennsylvania which has operated continuously since 1743), the Library of Congress (LC) is certainly the largest library in the United States. The Library of Congress is only slightly smaller than the British Library which claims the world title.
Just like many libraries today, the fledgling Library of Congress struggled to survive in its early years. Created on April 24th, 1800 (U.S. Statutes at Large v.2, chapter 37, section 5), the Library of Congress grew slowly until it was ransacked and burned by the British in 1814. Later that same year ex-president Thomas Jefferson sold his personal collection of some 6500 books to congress in order to restart the library. Jefferson’s vision of what the Library of Congress should be would have a permanent influence on the development of the library.
Parts of the Library of Congress burned again in 1851 and much of Jefferson’s original collection was lost. It was not until 1897, almost 100 years after it was created, that the Library of Congress moved into its current home in the Thomas Jefferson Building (originally called the Library of Congress building). Now LC employs over 3000 people, has an annual operating budget of about $618 million and houses 160,775,469 physical items in its various collections.
The Library of Congress contains an incredible variety of resources including the world’s largest law library, vast photographic, audiovisual, and music collections, telephone books, comics, maps, non-English materials, and much more. You can take the online tour here.
The Library of Congress also contains a number of curiosities.
How about the world’s smallest book?
Or the world’s largest published book?
The Library of Congress has been and remains a major influence on the library development in the United States providing technical support and leadership to the library community. I encourage you to visit the LC website and spend some time browsing their pages. The creation and maintenance of the Library of Congress is a fantastic accomplishment. Happy Birthday Library of Congress!