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Frequently Asked Questions


  1. Where are the books?

    Books and other materials are shelved on some 838 miles of shelves in three buildings on Capitol Hill and off-site storage facilities. All Library stacks are closed.

  2. What is the Library of Congress?

    The Library serves as the research arm of Congress and is recognized as the national library of the United States. Its collections comprise the world's most comprehensive record of human creativity and knowledge. Open to those age 16 and older without charge or special permission, it is the world's largest library and a great resource to scholars and researchers.

  3. How can I see the Main Reading Room and Great Hall?

    By taking free guided tours offered several times a day you can see both the Great Hall and, from the Visitors' Gallery located just off of the Great Hall, you will be able to view the Main Reading Room from above. You also have the option of walking around on your own, using the self-guiding brochure. Read more about visiting the Library.

  4. Does the Library have a copy of every book published in the United States?

    No, but it does have more than 36 million books and printed materials, as well as more than 121 million maps, manuscripts, photographs, films, audio and video recordings, prints and drawings, and other special collections. Get more detailed statistics.

  5. How does the Library acquire its holdings?

    Through exchange with libraries in this country and abroad, gifts, materials received from local, state and federal agencies as well as foreign governments, purchase, and copyright deposits. Materials are added to the collections of the Library at a rate of 12,000 items per working day. Selection officers review materials and decide which should be kept and added to the permanent collections. Copyright deposits make up the core of the collections, particularly those in the map, music, motion picture, and prints and photographs divisions.

  6. Who is in charge of the Library of Congress?

    The Library is directed by the Librarian of Congress, who is appointed by the president of the United States and confirmed by a vote of the Senate. Since the Library's founding in 1800, there have been 14 Librarians of Congress, including the incumbent, Carla Hayden, who was sworn in on September 14, 2016.

  7. How does Congress use the Library?

    Thousands of requests are received annually by the Congressional Research Service (CRS), one part of the Library that directly serves Congress. Staffed by specialists on a wide variety of topics, CRS supplies Congress with unbiased information on a wide variety of subjects. Another department of the Library that works closely with Congress is the Law Library. With collections in foreign, international and comparative law, it serves as the foreign law research arm of Congress.

  8. What are the top priorities of the Library at this time?

    First, to make knowledge and creativity available to the U.S. Congress on a continuing basis. Second, to acquire, organize, preserve, secure and sustain for the present and future use of Congress and the nation a comprehensive record of American history and creativity and a universal collection of human knowledge. The Library's third priority is to make its collections maximally accessible to Congress, the government and the public through such means as its website. Its fourth priority is to add interpretive and educational value to the basic resources of the Library to highlight the importance of the Library to the nation's well-being and future progress.

  9. How many visitors does the Library serve?

    With a staff of nearly 3,200, the Library welcomes more than 1.6 million readers and visitors annually. Children as well as adults are welcome on escorted Library tours.

  10. When was the Library built?

    After its founding in 1800, the Library was housed in a boarding house and later in the Capitol. Its first permanent building — now called the Thomas Jefferson Building — was opened in 1897. The John Adams Building was completed in 1939 and the James Madison Memorial Building in 1980.

  11. Who designed the Jefferson Building and how much did it cost?

    Its construction was based on a design, submitted in competition, by architects John L. Smithmeyer and Paul J. Pelz. The building cost almost $6.5 million, $150,000 less than expected. The building officially reopened to the public in May 1997 following some 12 years of renovation, with a new Visitors' Center and special area studies reading rooms for use of foreign language collections.

  12. Who were the artists for the Jefferson Building?

    More than 50 American sculptors, painters, and mosaic artists contributed their talents to the building. It was intended to be a showplace for the art and culture of the young Republic and remains one of the most admired buildings of the period.

  13. What can tourists see at the Library of Congress?

    The highlight of a visit to the Library of Congress is the glorious Great Hall of the Thomas Jefferson Building, which rises 75 feet from marble floor to stained glass ceiling. Marble columns, staircases, mosaics and paintings make this one of the most beautiful public buildings in America. Visitors may also view special exhibitions drawn from the Library's collections.

  14. How do I find out about exhibitions and other public events at the Library?

    The Library's monthly Calendar of Events, which can be picked up when you visit the Library, lists the month's events and continuing exhibitions. You can also call (202) 707-8000 for a recorded listing of special events. See a listing of current events.

  15. May I take photographs in the Library?

    Personal still cameras may be used with existing light in public areas. Permission to use a tripod must be obtained from the Office of Communications, Room LM-105, Madison Building. Any videotaping or filming for other than personal use, either indoors or outdoors on Library grounds, must be cleared with the Office of Communications.

  16. What is the Library doing to preserve its collections?

    The Library uses the full range of traditional methods of conservation and binding as well as newer technologies such as the deacidification of paper and the digitization of original materials to preserve its collections. These measures include maintaining materials in the proper environment, being prepared for emergencies such as water leaks, ensuring the proper care and handling of the collections, and stabilizing fragile and rare materials by placing them in acid-free containers to protect them from further deterioration.

  17. How is the Library using new technologies?

    The expanded Computer Catalog Center within the Main Reading Room enables patrons to use a simplified automated bibliographic search program to look up titles in the Library's general book collections. Users outside the Library can gain free access to its online catalog. Major exhibitions of the library are also available online, as are selected prints and photographs, historic films and political speeches. Information about the U.S. Congress can be found online at, and the Library has recently launched an app that allows users access to the Congressional Record on their iPads.

  18. Who can use the Library and check out books?

    The Library of Congress is a research library, and books are used only on the premises by members of the public. Anyone age 16 and older may use the collections. All patrons using the Library's reading rooms and/or collections must have a user card with a photo on it. User cards can be obtained at the reader registration station in Room LM-140 of the Madison Building by presenting a driver's license or passport and completing a brief self-registration process.

  19. Where can I see the most treasured documents of the Library of Congress?

    Some of the most historic and treasured items from the Library's vast collection are on display within the exhibitions in the Library's Thomas Jefferson Building. Ongoing displays include the map that first used the term "America" for the New World, Thomas Jefferson's original library (the basis for the Library of Congress), the Gutenberg Bible and the Giant Bible of Mainz. Other changing exhibits are mounted in public areas and reading rooms in the three buildings.

  20. How do I find things at the Library of Congress?

    You may start by consulting the attendant at the Orientation Gallery desk in the Jefferson Building. You may also retrieve information from the computers located in the same area.

  21. Where can I go to look up my family history?

    The Local History and Genealogy Section suggests that to make your search easier, you first consult your local public library for guides to genealogical research. Upon request, a brochure about the Library's local history and genealogy collection can be obtained by writing to the section, in care of the Library of Congress.

  22. How may I make a gift to the Library of Congress?

    Throughout its history, the Library has been enriched by private citizens through the donation of collections, including manuscripts, books, audio, video, and film recordings, photographs and prints, maps, and musical scores, as well as financial gifts. If you are interested in making a gift to the Library, our Development Office will be happy to discuss this with you. More information

  23. Where is the nearest Metro stop?

    Capitol South Metro, served by the Orange and Blue lines, is near the corner of 1st and C Streets SE. Metrobus stops are located near the Library grounds, and schedules can be obtained at the Capitol South subway station.

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