Tuesday, January 26, 2010

“Reading maketh a full man, conference a ready man, and writing an exact man.” – On the walls of the Library of Congress

On January 26, 1802, Congress passed an act calling for the establishment of a library within the U.S. Capital. The primary purpose of the library was to field research requests from Congress. Only members of Congress, Supreme Court Justices and other high-ranking government officials are allowed to take books out of the library. The rest of us have to obtain a library card to use research materials within the library.

The Library itself has a rich history full of intrigue, drama and fires. Much of the library’s original collection was destroyed by fire during the War of 1812. Thomas Jefferson sold 6487 books to the library, which made up his entire personal library. This act shows how seriously Jefferson believed in the mission and importance of the Library of Congress, and how much he needed money to keep his ever tenuous personal finances in the black (which they rarely were).

The Library of Congress remained in the Capital building for much of the 19th century. After the Civil War, the library began to grow in scope and in prominence and was eventually moved into its own building. It has come to serve as our de facto national library and now encompasses programs to promote literacy and greater historical appreciation nationwide. It is the largest library in the world in terms of shelf space (530 miles of bookshelves) and the 2nd largest in terms of number of books held in its collections (29 million books). Visit the library’s website to do some research or just to check out the cool services the library offers online.

For more of the history of the Library of Congress, check this out.

[Images via Zanegrant, bbg-aura and about]

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