The Library of Congress is both the U.S. national library and the largest library in the world. In the time of its existence, since 1800, it has gone through many dramatic changes, and not all of them are related to the media it stores. Take a look at some of those below.
James Madison was the one who came up with the idea for a national library, even before he was president. It was President Adams who first created the Library of Congress in 1800. When it was created, it had 740 books and three maps.
While Adams may have created the Library of Congress, it was Thomas Jefferson who did the most to expand it. He signed a bill in 1802 that appointed a national adviser to the library. When the library burned to the ground in the War of 1812, he offered his own personal library as a replacement. The way he organized his books impressed the librarians so much that his scheme was kept in place for another 40 years.
On December 12, 1851, the Library of Congress once again burned to the ground. Two thirds of its collection was destroyed. It was not until after the Civil War that it began to pick itself up again. In between 1876 and 1893, the library added almost 500,000 books. In 1897, the Register of Copyright was added to protect writers from plagiarism. The services for the blind and disabled to assist them in reading were added, as well as the first interlibrary loan program. (Today the Talking Book program and the Braille program offer free mailing of their services to any disabled individual in the United States.) By 1928, the library had expanded so much that a new building was added, The John Adams building (completed in 1939). A third building, the James Madison building, was opened in 1976.
Today, the Library of Congress takes up three buildings and a conservation center in Virginia. It carries over 38 million books in 470 languages. But that’s not all it has: There are collections of photographs (many now available online), music, films, maps, two Stradivarius violins, and even a Twitter collection. The rare book collection includes a Gutenberg Bible, illuminated manuscripts, a rough draft of the Declaration of Independence, and more. The copyright office registers almost 22,000 works a day. For the last three years, there have been “Mostly Lost” events where people try to identify silent films and look for ones that are misidentified. The National Book Festival has taken place since 2001, and publishers nominate books and authors for awards presented there.
[Photo via Wikipedia/Carol M. Highsmith]