Library of Congress - A Closer Look

Library of CongressThe Library of Congress (LOC), located in Washington, D.C., is the world’s largest library. Founded in 1800 by Congress, the library contains not only books, but also recordings, maps, photographs, and manuscripts. With a rich history the LOC has been the storage place of many one of a kind documents, of both historical and cultural importance. In this massive collection, readers can find at least one copy of every fiction and non-fiction work published, this collection shadows any library in existence.

Library of Congress – Visit the official home page of the Library of Congress.
Library of Congress American Memory – Experience words, images, and music that document the American culture.

Fire of 1851

Almost two-thirds of the library was destroyed by fire on Christmas Eve, 1851. Out of the 55,000 books in the collection, 35,000 were destroyed. That next year, Congress approved to spend $168,700 to replace books that were lost. The library also gained another 45,000 books from the Smithsonian Library in 1866, but only after its librarian Charles Coffin Jewett lobbied to make the Smithsonian the national library and was fired for his efforts.

Librarian-in-Arms – John. G. Stpehenson’s reign as Librarian of Congress weakened the library as he was focused on affairs such as the Civil War rather than the library.

History of the Smithsonian Libraries – Learn more about the Smithsonian’s book donation to the Library of Congress.

Ainsworth Rand Spofford: Expansion

After a conservative period in the library’s history, Librarian of Congress Ainsworth Rand Spofford built up support for the library during his almost 30 year tenure. During this time, the Thomas Jefferson Building was constructed, the library gained control of all copyrighted registration, and it grew to 840,000 volumes. The staff of the library was increased from 42 to 108 by the Congress.

American Libraries - Ainsworth Rand Spofford, 1825-1908: a memorial meeting at the Library of Congress on Thursday, November 12, 1908, at four o'clock, the Librarian of Congress presiding (1909)

The Library of Congress – The National Register of Historic Places entry on the Thomas Jefferson Building.

Herbert Putnam

Herbert Putnam was the eighth Librarian of Congress. He served as the librarian from 1899 until 1939. A Harvard graduate former librarian of the Boston Public Library, Putnam was the first Librarian of Congress to have previous experience as a librarian. Putnam established the interlibrary loan system, strengthened the relationship between the LOC and other libraries, and set up the system of classifying books known as the Library of Congress classification that is still in use today.

Librarians and Archivists- The history of librarians, including Herbert Putnam from The Library of Congress.

The Functions of the Library of Congress, Past and Present – John Cole’s document that covers Putnam’s history with the LOC.

WWII - Today

Archibald MacLeish served as the Librarian of Congress during World War II. He became the most visible of all the librarians. Among his accomplishments was dedicating a reading room to Thomas Jefferson, commissioning Ezra Winter to paint murals, and set up the “democracy alcove” in the Main Reading Room. The alcove includes the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Federalist Papers. Replacing MacLeish was Luther H. Evans, who created the Library of Congress Missions. The Library of Congress Missions set up missions all over the world including San Francisco, Europe, and Japan. From 1953 until 1974, L. Quincy Mumford served as the Librarian of Congress. He helped initiate the construction of the third building in the LOC, the James Madison Memorial as well as setting up new centers in Cairo and New Delhi. Daniel Boorstin served from 1974 until 1987. His ties with scholars, authors, and cultural leaders led the New York Times to say he had elevated the librarian position to “perhaps the leading intellectual public position in the nation.”

In 1987, the current librarian, James H. Billington, took over. He oversaw getting the LOC online, developing the “National Digital Library.”

Archibald MacLeish Interview – An interview with the prominent librarian by The Paris Review.

L. Quincy Mumford – Mumford announces the appointment of George D. Cary as the register of copyrights.

From the Mundane to the Magnificent- The history of the Library of Congress, including its content and architectural developments.


In addition to the invaluable government documents, the Library of Congress also owns a Gutenberg Bible, one of only four vellum copies known in existence. The Betts and Cassavetti Stradivarius, rare antique violins, are both housed there. All in all, the library has approximately one million government publications, one million issues of world newspapers, 6,000 comic books, half a million microfilm reels, 2.7 million sound recordings, almost five million maps, and 13.7 million prints and photographs.

The Washington Post – An article about Billington acquiring all public tweets for the LOC’s archives.

The Archives - Ebooks and text archives at the LOC.


The Library of Congress consists of three buildings: the Thomas Jefferson Building, the John Adams Building, and the James Madison Memorial Building. The buildings reside on Capitol Hill and are connected by underground passageways. The Thomas Jefferson Building, also known as the Main Building, is the oldest. The John Adams Building, opened in 1938, is known as the Annex. The James Madison Memorial Building houses the Law Library of Congress.

Thomas Jefferson Building – A photo of the building.

James Madison Memorial Building – A document of remarks made at the building dedication.

The Library of Congress: A Modern Altar of Pergamon- A detailed look at the history behind the design of The Library of Congress building and how it was influenced.

Sections of the Library

The Thomas Jefferson Building includes such sections of the library as the Great Hall, the Coolridge Auditorium, and the Capital Page School, which houses the office of the Poet Laureate of the United States, where Senate, House, and Supreme Court pages go to school. The John Adams Building contains the North Reading Room, where Winter’s murals are, and the South Reading Room. The James Madison Memorial Building contains the James Madison Memorial Hall.

Misc. Resources

The Library of Congress houses the U.S. Copyrights Office.

THOMAS – Search legislative information at the LOC.

The Library of Congress Classification System

How to find a book- A tutorial on how to find the book or document you are looking for in The Library of Congress.


The Library of Congress is the world’s most incredible library, containing nearly 145 million items that fill up around 745 miles of bookshelves. It continues to grow at a rate of 10,000 items added daily.