September 18, 2008 Inscriptions on Library of Congress Buildings Documented in Richly Illustrated Volume

Revised Edition of “On These Walls” Explains Significance of Symbolic and Verbal Decorations

Press Contact: Guy Lamolinara (202) 707-9217

“On These Walls: Inscriptions and Quotations of the Library of Congress,” by John Y. Cole, has just been republished in a revised edition with more than 100 full-color illustrations by noted photographer Carol M. Highsmith. This new publication features new photography by Highsmith to accompany Cole’s text, which is the most comprehensive guide available on the significance of the inscriptions and quotations found on the walls of the three buildings that comprise the Library of Congress – the world’s largest library and the nation’s oldest cultural institution in Washington.

While the bulk of “On These Walls” rightly focuses on one of the nation’s architectural masterpieces -- the 1897 Thomas Jefferson Building -- it does not neglect the important inscriptions and symbols in the 1938 John Adams Building and the 1980 James Madison Memorial Building. According to Cole, each of the Library’s buildings “is a powerful and impressive symbol of learning and democracy and of American culture and self-confidence. The inscriptions, names and quotations on their respective walls and ceilings express the Library’s ambitious mission of collecting and sharing the wisdom of all civilizations.”

In addition to explaining the significance of the myriad inscriptions and quotations in the three buildings, the book also offers a brief history of the Library of Congress itself and of the construction of its three buildings on Capitol Hill. For example, one learns that before 1897, the Library of Congress was housed in various locations in the U.S. Capitol Building; that an institution that began as a legislative library for Congress now boasts more than 138 million items in all formats on which information is recorded and that its collections are in more than 460 languages; that the Thomas Jefferson Building is named after the Library’s principal founder, who sold his personal library to Congress after the original collections were destroyed by fire in 1814; that the John Adams Building is named for the president who in 1800 approved the establishment of the Library; and that the James Madison Memorial Building is so named as the nation’s official memorial to the fourth president, father of the Constitution and the first sponsor of the idea of a library for Congress.

The book not only describes the extraordinary details of the buildings, but it also offers brief biographies of the American artists responsible for turning columns, walls, ceilings, balustrades and other architectural features into works of art.

John Y. Cole is director of the Library’s Center for the Book and the institution’s unofficial historian; he has written extensively on the Library. The Center for the Book ( was established by Congress in 1977 “to use the resources and prestige of the Library of Congress to promote books, reading, literacy and libraries.”

Carol M. Highsmith, a distinguished photographer, who has documented American life and architecture for more than 30 years, began donating her archives to the Library’s Prints and Photographs Division in 1992. Her images can be found online at

“On These Walls” (Library of Congress in association with Scala Publishers) is a 128-page softcover volume illustrated with more than 100 exquisite full-color photographs. It is available for $19.95 in the Library’s Jefferson Building Sales Shop. Credit card orders are taken at (888) 682-3557, or shop on the Web at It is also sold in bookstores nationwide and through online booksellers.


PR 08-163
ISSN 0731-3527