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Director's Column

PLSJC Director Alan Hall writes a weekly column discussing library and community news, history, and other interesting subjects.

The Library of Congress

By Alan Hall, Director, PLSJ
Publish Date - Sunday, February 25, 2007


The Library of Congress has been called "America's Library."


Their mission is to "make its resources available and useful to the Congress and the American people."


The second purpose is to preserve a collection of knowledge for the future.


The Library of Congress is the largest library in the world, with more than 130 million items. 


The collection includes more than 29 million cataloged books, 2.7 million recordings, 12 million photographs, 4.8 million maps, and 58 million manuscripts.


The Joint Committee on the Library was created on April 24, 1800, as part of legislation signed by President John Adams establishing the federal government in Washington, D.C.


The act appropriated $ 5,000 for the "purchase of such books as may be necessary for the use of Congress."


The original Library of Congress was housed in the new Capitol Building until August 1814, when invading British troops set fire to the building destroying the library.


Retired President Thomas Jefferson offered his personal library as a replacement.


In January 1815, Congress acquired Jefferson's 6,487 books for a cost of $ 23,950 as the basis for a new Library of Congress.


The Library began to expand in 1870 when the Copyright Law required that two copies be deposited with the Library of Congress for each publication.


The need for new space for the library was apparent, and on November 1, 1897, the new Library of Congress Building opened across the street from the U.S. Capitol.


Today, the Library of Congress occupies three buildings on Capitol Hill, as well as remote storage collections.


With the advent of the Internet, the Library of Congress has expanded access to its collections worldwide.


The web site, is a portal to their collections and services.


Electronic catalogs provide access to the huge collections.


Digitized maps, photos, and documents are available to the public, as well as exhibitions of the treasures of the library collections.


"Thomas" is the legislative information network, both historical and current information.


Regardless, a personal visit to the original 1897 Jefferson Building is a must if you are in Washington, D.C.


The scope of the original Jefferson collection was underscored on January 4.


Newly elected Rep. Keith Ellison from Minnesota wished to take the oath of office with his hand on a Koran, as a member of the Muslim religion.


The Library of Congress provided an English translation of the Koran from their collection for the event, published in London in 1764.


Thomas Jefferson owned the two-volume set; it was part of his collection sold to the Library of Congress in 1815.


The volumes, rebound in leather in 1919, were escorted to the Capitol Building by a librarian of the Rare Book Collection, accompanied by a security guard for use in the oath of office.


All of Jefferson's books were marked with a "T" on the signature of the book, and a corresponding "J."


Describing his collection of books, Jefferson stated, "I do not know that it contains any branch of science which Congress would wish to exclude from their collection: there is, in fact, no subject to which a Member of Congress may not have an occasion to refer."