September 1, 2016 Library of Congress Fact Sheet

Contact: Office of Communications (202) 707-2905

The Library of Congress: A Brief History

The Library of Congress is the world’s largest library, offering access to the creative record of the United States—and extensive materials from around the world—both on-site and online. It is the main research arm of the U.S. Congress and the home of the U.S. Copyright Office.

It is the nation’s library, containing more than 162 million items in nearly every language and format—from ancient Chinese woodblock prints to digital files. Today, the Library preserves treasures such as a Gutenberg Bible, Thomas Jefferson’s handwritten draft of the Declaration of Independence and the Emancipation Proclamation in Abraham Lincoln’s hand. The collections also include the full papers of 23 presidents and the works of eminent Americans such as Hannah Arendt, Alexander Graham Bell, Leonard Bernstein, Frederick Douglass, Martha Graham, Bob Hope, Thurgood Marshall, Rosa Parks, and Booker T. Washington. Other treasures include the first printed book in the Western world, baseball cards, comic books and cookbooks, and millions of maps and atlases, photographs, posters, microfilms, movies, rare books, music manuscripts and recordings, and radio and television broadcasts.

It was created April 24, 1800, when President John Adams signed the bill that moved the seat of government from Philadelphia to Washington, D.C., allocating $5,000 for “the purchase of such books as may be necessary for the use of Congress.”

The Library’s 3,000 volumes were held in the Capitol and lost when British troops invaded Washington in August, 1814 and set fire to the building. Within a month, former President Thomas Jefferson, living in retirement at Monticello, offered as a replacement his personal library, 6,487 books on myriad subjects in many languages.

The Library has grown with the times. It now occupies three buildings on Capitol Hill, including its world-famous Thomas Jefferson Building, with additional large-scale collection-storage buildings added at Fort Meade, Maryland since 2002. A world-class facility for sound, film and video storage and preservation—the Library of Congress Packard Campus for Audio Visual Conservation—opened in Culpeper, Virginia, in 2007.

In the early 1990s, the Library embarked on a program to make its incomparable collections more widely available to the public on the internet. The site also provides access to Library exhibitions, catalog data, legislative information at Congress.gov and copyright information at Copyright.gov. With more than 86.1 million visits and 482.5 million page-views last year, the site is among the most visited of all federal web addresses.

In its second century, the Library of Congress is a dynamic place for research and learning.

What's in the Library of Congress?

The collection of more than 162 million items includes:

  • more than 38.6 million cataloged books and other print materials, in 470 languages;
  • more than 70 million manuscripts;
  • the largest rare book collection in North America;
  • the world's largest collection of legal materials, films, maps, sheet music and sound recordings.

Who Uses the Library of Congress?

  • Congress itself, the general public and other federal agencies. They made more than 1 million reference requests in the most recent fiscal year.
  • Creators of intellectual property, who registered 443,812 claims to copyright during that period through its U.S. Copyright Office.
  • Blind and physically handicapped Americans, who received nearly 22 million copies of Braille and recorded books and magazines to more than 862,000 reader accounts.
  • Researchers in the Library’s reading rooms—anyone over the age of 16 can use these, after obtaining an easy-to-get reader card—who accessed nearly 900,000 items in the most recent fiscal year.
  • Visitors—more than 1.6 million—to the Library’s collection-based exhibitions.
  • Users of the Library’s extensive website network, who accessed 482.5 million page-views in 86.1 million visits to Library sites during the most recent fiscal year.

Did You Know?

  • That the Library is the home of the U.S. Poet Laureate, the Gershwin Prize for Popular Song, the Prize for American Fiction and the Library of Congress Literacy Awards?
  • That Library of Congress reference staff provide direct research help to the public through its Ask-A-Librarian service, available at loc.gov/rr/askalib/?
  • That the Library offers resources for teachers nationwide to help build its online “primary source” materials into valuable curriculum through its “Teaching With Primary Sources” program?
  • That the Library hosts the National Book Festival each year in Washington, D.C.?
  • That the Library stages continuing and special exhibitions, open to the public, based on its extensive collections?
  • That the Library offers access to books and special programs at its Young Readers Center, located on the ground floor of the Library’s Thomas Jefferson Building?

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PR 16-A05
2016-09-01
ISSN 0731-3527