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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 is Our Nation's National Library.

By Alan Hall, Director, PLSJ
Publish Date - Sunday, June 12, 2005

The Library of Congress is our nation's national library. It was founded in 1800 to serve the research needs of the U. S. Congress, but has grown in scope, as its collection has been made available to the general public. Since it's founding, some 13 Librarians of Congress have directed the institution, including James H. Billington, the current librarian who was appointed in 1987. Legislative research is handled by the Congressional Research Service within the Library of Congress, providing nonpartisan and objective research on issues for members of Congress and their staffs.

The Library of Congress is housed in the 1897 Jefferson Building in Washington, D.C., as well as the 1939 Adams Building, and the 1980 Madison Building.  From 1800-1897, it occupied space in the U.S. Capitol. The collections of the Library of Congress contain 128 million items in all formats, from the printed book to sound records to objects.

The public perception of the Library of Congress is that they own a copy of "everything ever published." That is not quite true.  When a work is published in the U.S. and registered with the Copyright Office, two copies must be provided in case the library wants to add it to the collection.

The National Digital Information Infrastructure is headed by the Library of Congress.  It works with a wide range of federal agencies to maintain and preserve digital information for future use. With more information available in digital format, the Library of Congress is addressing the need to maintain that information in the same way published information is maintained in the traditional library. This includes the American Memory Project, America's Library, and online versions of the Exhibitions sponsored by the Library of Congress.

In addition, THOMAS, the information link to the records of Congress, covers online services. The holdings of the Library of Congress can be accessed by their online catalog.  The U.S. Copyright Office provides information about copyright law on its web site. Materials owned by the Library of Congress must be used in the library, as it is only a research facility.  Users must be above high school age, and must register to use the library collections.

If you are visiting Washington, D.C., be sure to include the Library of Congress on your tour visits.  The Jefferson Building is one of the most spectacular public buildings in the capital city. It contains public exhibit areas with rotating exhibits, and includes the "American Treasures" gallery, which has 300 of the most historic and treasured items from the library's collections. One volume of the Gutenberg Bible is displayed in the lobby area in a glass case, with pages turned every week to prevent light damage to the book.

Sometimes, a user of our library will ask that we check with the Library of Congress for specific information. In reality, we receive Interlibrary Loans from libraries all around the nation, but not from the Library of Congress. Their services are more available today with their web page, one of the most used for a federal agency.  They can be found at