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The Library of Congress: A Timeline

A chronology of key events in the history of the Library of Congress.

For the Congress, 1800-1897

  • April 24, 1800

    President John Adams approves an act of Congress that moves the government from Philadelphia to the new capital city of Washington. Five thousand dollars is appropriated for the purchase of books to be housed in the Capitol.

  • January 26, 1802

    President Thomas Jefferson approves a compromise act of Congress which states that the President of the United States will appoint the Librarian of Congress.

  • 1812

    The first classified Library catalog is published. It lists 3,076 volumes, and 53 maps, charts, and plans. An adjustment in the Library’s rules exempts members of Congress from overdue fines.

  • August 24, 1814

    In retaliation for the capture of York and the burning of its parliamentary building by American forces, the British capture Washington and burn the Capitol, destroying the Library of Congress.

  • January 26, 1815

    The House of Representatives approves the purchase of Jefferson’s 6,487-volume personal library for $23,950 to replace the collection lost in the fire.

  • December 24, 1851

    An accidental fire in the Library on Christmas Eve destroys approximately 35,000 volumes, including nearly two-thirds of Jefferson’s library.

  • August 23, 1853

    Designed by Architect of the Capitol Thomas U. Walter, a newly remodeled fireproof iron room for the Library opens in the Capitol’s west front. It is widely admired and becomes a tourist attraction.

  • July 8, 1870

    President Ulysses S. Grant approves an act of Congress that centralizes all U.S. copyright registration and deposit activities at the Library of Congress.

  • December 1, 1871

    Librarian Ainsworth Rand Spofford informs Congress that the rapid flow of copyright deposits into the Library’s rooms in the Capitol will soon necessitate a separate Library building.

  • November 1, 1897

    After years of overcrowding in the Capitol, the monumental new Library building officially opens to the public.

For the Nation, 1898-1960

  • October 28, 1901

    The Library announces that its printed catalog cards are now available for sale to libraries around the world.

  • March 9, 1903

    President Theodore Roosevelt issues an executive order directing the transfer of the records of the Continental Congress and the personal papers of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, James Monroe, and Benjamin Franklin from the State Department to the Library.

  • September 29, 1921

    President Warren G. Harding issues an executive order that transfers the original copies of the Declaration of Independence and U.S. Constitution to the Library for their safekeeping and display. The two documents are sent to their permanent home in the National Archives in 1952.

  • July 3, 1930

    $1.5 million is appropriated for the purchase of the Vollbehr collection of incunabula, which includes the first Gutenberg Bible in the Western Hemisphere.

  • March 3, 1931

    The Pratt-Smoot Act enables the Library to provide books for the use of adult blind readers of the United States and its territories.

  • January 3, 1939

    A new Library of Congress Annex Building opens to the general public.

  • October 30, 1944

    The ballet "Appalachian Spring," commissioned by the Library, premiers in the Coolidge Auditorium, with a performance by the Martha Graham Dance Company to the music of Aaron Copland.

  • August 2, 1946

    The Legislative Reorganization Act of 1946 is approved, giving the Library’s Legislative Reference Service (LRS) permanent status as a separate Library department and providing for the hiring of nationally eminent specialists in 19 broad subject fields.

  • April 24, 1950

    The Library celebrates its sesquicentennial.

  • September 13, 1954

    The Library receives the Brady-Handy photographic collection, containing more than 3,000 negatives made by Civil War photographer Mathew B. Brady and several thousand by his nephew Levin C. Handy.

  • January 1958

    Librarian of Congress L. Quincy Mumford establishes an interdepartmental Committee on Mechanized Information Retrieval to study the "problem of applying machine methods to the control of the Library’s collections."

  • September 6, 1958

    President Dwight D. Eisenhower approves an amendment to the Agricultural Trade Development and Assistance Act of 1954 (popularly known as Public Law 480), which greatly strengthens the overseas acquisition program of the Library of Congress.

For the World, 1960-2016

  • November 8, 1965

    President Lyndon B. Johnson approves the Higher Education Act of 1965, which allows the Library to acquire and provide cataloging information for research materials “currently published throughout the world that are of value to scholarship.” The next year the Library opens its first shared cataloging office (pp. 8-9 "The Legacy of Shared Cataloging") in London, followed by the first regional office in Rio de Janeiro.

  • March 27, 1969

    With the mailing of the first computer tapes containing cataloging data, the Machine-Readable Cataloging (MARC) Distribution Service is inaugurated.

  • October 26, 1970

    The Legislative Reorganization Act of 1970 transforms and renames LRS. The newly structured Congressional Research Service (CRS) becomes the U.S. Congress’s own think tank for objective, nonpartisan policy analysis.

  • May 28, 1980

    The third major Library building on Capitol Hill, the James Madison Memorial Building, opens to the public.

  • June 10, 1980

    The Library announces that the original 1897 Library building has been renamed the Thomas Jefferson Building and its second building, opened in 1939, is now the John Adams Building.

  • January 1, 1981

    The filing of cards into the Library’s main card catalog stops, and the online cataloging of the Library’s collections officially begins.

  • June 22, 1994

    The Library debuts its website at the American Library Association annual conference in Miami, Florida.

  • October 13, 1994

    The Library launches its National Digital Library program aimed at digitizing primary sources related to the study of American history.

  • October 5, 1999

    Metromedia president John W. Kluge donates $60 million to establish the John W. Kluge Center for Scholars and Prize in the Human Sciences. It is the largest private monetary gift in the Library’s history.

  • April 24, 2000

    The Library celebrates its Bicentennial.

  • September 8, 2001

    The first National Book Festival, developed in cooperation with First Lady Laura Bush, takes place.

  • July 26, 2007

    The new Packard Campus for Audio-Visual Conservation located on a 45-acre site in Culpeper, Virginia, is transferred to the Library by the Packard Humanities Institute. The Institute provided $155 million for the design and construction of the four-building facility, the largest private gift ever made to the Library.

  • April 21, 2009

    In Paris, Librarian James H. Billington announces the launch of the World Digital Library, an international collaborative project developed with UNESCO and other organizations.

  • September 14, 2016

    Carla D. Hayden is sworn in as the 14th Librarian of Congress. At the time of her swearing in, the Library’s collection of more than 162 million items includes more than 38 million cataloged books and other print materials in more than 470 languages; more than 70 million manuscripts; the largest rare book collection in North America; and the world’s largest collections of legal materials, films, maps, sheet music, and sound recordings. In fiscal year 2016, the Library employed 3,149 staff members and operated with a total 2016 appropriation of $642.04 million, including the authorization to spend $43.13 million in receipts.