Article History of the Music Division

Image of the Thomas Jefferson Building
The steps leading to the Thomas Jefferson Building of the Library of Congress [n.d.]

The first library that Congress established for itself in 1800 was for legislative purposes only and, therefore, contained no music materials whatsoever. With the purchase of Thomas Jefferson's personal library in 1815, however, thirteen books on music theory and literature were added to the congressional library. Once Jefferson's books on music found their way into the collections, music continued to be added, largely as a result of copyright deposits (required as a condition of copyright registration).

By 1870, all copyright functions were centralized within the Library of Congress and, as a result, by 1896, the music collection had grown to some 400,000 items. At that time a separate division for music was created, even though John Russell Young, the Librarian of Congress at the time, still considered music in the Library to be "merely an experiment." The following year, when the first Library of Congress building, now known as the Jefferson building, opened to the public, the Music Division moved into its own quarters, and in the annual report for 1898 Mr. Young suggested that the new department of music "has resulted in the foundation of what is destined to be one of the great musical libraries of the world," and that "music in its best sense is a science belonging to all ages, as well as all nationalities and conditions of men, and the Library of Congress should contain its earliest as well as its latest and most complete expression."

The Librarian's vision, to the good fortune of the music world, was shared by a succession of Music Division chiefs, who began to chart a course for building and organizing the rapidly expanding music collection. This emphasis on the collections (including books, manuscripts and printed music scores) changed little until 1925, when Congress approved the establishment of the Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge Foundation in the Library of Congress at the request of then-Librarian of Congress Dr. Herbert Putnam. Who could have predicted that this simple act of Congress would become not only the stepping stone for musical philanthropy at the Library, but also the impetus for growth in several fields of music? Concerts, to name but one by-product, have now been a regular and world-renowned feature of the Library of Congress for decades.

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  • History of the Music Division


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History of the Music Division. Web..

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