April 14, 1999 Library of Congress Kicks Off Bicentennial Gifts to the Nation Project

Contact: Guy Lamolinara (202) 707-9217

With its announcement that Jerry and Gene Jones had donated $1 million for the re-creation of Thomas Jefferson's personal library, the Library of Congress inaugurates its Bicentennial Gifts to the Nation project. The Library will be 200 on April 24, 2000.

"The importance of the Gifts to the Nation project cannot be overestimated," said Librarian of Congress James H. Billington. "Even the world's largest library needs to continue to enrich its collections with important items. The re- creation of Jefferson's library and the acquisition of rare other items the Library is seeking will benefit our millions of patrons worldwide."

With today's donation, the Gifts to the Nation project takes a major step forward. This gift will enable the Library, once again, to house the "seed" collection from which its incomparable collections have grown.

The Library of Congress is seeking to replace the books that have been missing from the 6,487 volumes that Thomas Jefferson sold to the Library in 1815 for $23,950. He sold his personal collection to the Library five months after the original Library of Congress collections were lost in the Capitol fire set by the British in 1814. (From 1800 until the Jefferson Building opened in 1897, the Library was housed in the Capitol.) Then, in 1851, nearly two-thirds of Jefferson's books were destroyed in another Capitol fire. Over the years, the Library has replaced most of the volumes but many are still missing.

As part of the Gifts to the Nation project, the Library will augment its collections with other materials that Library of Congress curators have identified as historically significant items that would add to the depth and diversity of existing collections. The curators' recommendations have been forwarded to the James Madison Council, the Library's private sector advisory group, which will help the Library seek donors to make these acquisitions possible.

Other Gifts to the Nation projects will endow chairs for visiting scholars and curatorships for the Library's specialists to increase use of the collections, publish works based on the collections, and make the materials' availability and usefulness to researchers more widely known.

Digital Gifts for the Nation

In October 1994, the Library announced that it would offer digitized versions of 5 million items, in cooperation with other research institutions, on the Internet at www.loc.gov by the year 2000. Through the American Memory project of the National Digital Library Program, multi-media American history collections from the Library and other major repositories are being seen not only by those who can travel to Washington but also by citizens nationwide. This collaborative effort has so far brought more than 1.7 million items in multiple formats to students, educators, researchers and lifelong learners. Libraries and other institutions throughout the United States are cooperating in this effort by digitizing their American history collections and making them available through American Memory. The site currently handles more than 3 million transactions each workday and has consistently been voted one of the top 100 Web sites by PC Magazine.

The achievement of the 5 million item goal in 2000 will be the Library's Gift to the Nation.


Local Legacies

A special project called Local Legacies is designed to involve citizens nationwide in documenting events and activities that have particular cultural importance for local communities. Participants' "snap shots" of local traditions, preserved verbally, in photographs or possibly sound and video recordings, will become part of the permanent collections of the Library's American Folklife Center in 2000. The Library will share a portion of these gifts from across the nation by making them electronically available through its National Digital Library Program.

With the assistance of members of Congress and their staffs, Local Legacies will involve libraries, folklife organizations and other cultural institutions in documenting the cultural heritage that makes this nation unique. Creators of selected Local Legacies projects will be invited to Washington for a celebration of their gifts to the nation, to be featured in a Library exhibition scheduled for May 2000. Projects must be completed by December 1999.

Poetry for the Nation

Robert Pinsky's Favorite Poem project was launched in 1997, during his first term as Poet Laureate, when President and Mrs. Clinton read their favorite poems at the White House. Readings for the project have also been held in many other cities, and continue to be held nationwide.

Mr. Pinsky was recently appointed to an unprecedented third one-year term as Poet Laureate.

The goal of the Favorite Poem project is to make 1,000 audio and 200 video tapes of people from all walks of life reciting their poetry. These tapes will be added to the Library's Archive of Literature on Tape as a permanent record, "at the end of the century, of what we Americans choose, and what we do with our voices and faces, when asked to say aloud a poem that we love," said Mr. Pinsky.

The Favorite Poem Project is sponsored by the Library's Center for the Book, the New England Foundation for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Arts and Boston University.

Symposia for the Nation

The life of the mind will be explored in a series of symposia, beginning June 14-17, 1999, with "Frontiers of the Mind in the Twenty-First Century." Distinguished scholars will discuss significant developments in the past century and take a look at the challenges ahead.

In March 2000, "Accountable Democracy and the Rule of Law" will examine the relationship between democracy and the law in many parts of the world.

On Oct. 23-27, 2000, the Library will host an international conference, "National Libraries of the World: Interpreting the Past, Shaping the Future." The conference will explore the influences shaping national libraries today, including digital technology and the information explosion. Other symposia will highlight the Library's mission to inform the U.S. Congress, the role of copyright in the 21st century, and the importance of acquiring, securing and making accessible the nation's creative legacy.


The Bicentennial theme of "Libraries, Creativity, Liberty" will be reflected in the Library of Congress Bicentennial exhibitions. The first, "The Work of Charles and Ray Eames: A Legacy of Invention," will open in the Thomas Jefferson Building on May 20, 1999. Illustrating American "creativity," the exhibition will survey the work of this extraordinary example of a 20th century team and their influence on popular taste. The exhibition closes on Sept. 4, 1999, and will travel to other venues.

"John Bull and Uncle Sam: Four Centuries of British-American Relations" opens on Nov. 17, 1999. The exhibition, featuring treasures from the magnificent collections of the Library of Congress and the British Library, will reflect the "libraries" aspect of the bicentennial theme.

"Thomas Jefferson: Genius of Liberty" is scheduled to open in April 2000. This exhibition will trace the origins and evolution of Jefferson's thinking and examine the influence of his ideas and interests on American life and our concept of liberty. The display will include volumes surviving from Jefferson's 1815 library and purchased through the Gifts to the Nation project.

Photo Contest

The Center for the Book and the American Library Association are promoting library use everywhere by involving all libraries in local photography contests. National winners will be announced in June 1999.

Performing Arts

The Music Division is commemorating the Library's Bicentennial through the commissioning and performance of music, dance and theater representing the breadth, diversity and significance of America's musical heritage. The concert series for 1999-2000 will reflect the sweep of American music history and include a broad range of musical styles, genres and subjects. The extensive program will feature American popular and "high art" music; music for dance, film, and opera; music in America from Native Americans, African Americans, early settlers and immigrants from every part of the world; and music brought to America.

Other Projects

The U.S. Postal Service will issue a commemorative stamp on the Library's 200th birthday, April 24, 2000. Also in honor of the Library's Bicentennial, two coins will be minted.

A publication, The Library of Congress: Two Hundred Years, will be a comprehensive, illustrated history of the Library, to be published in April 2000 by Yale University Press. The Encyclopedia of the Library of Congress will be an illustrated one-volume reference work containing topical essays and approximately 150 shorter pieces that describe the Library's major collections. The restoration of the 1897 Thomas Jefferson Building will be reflected in the new Guide to the Library of Congress.

For additional information on participating in these projects, contact the Library of Congress Bicentennial Program Office at (202) 707-2000; toll free (800) 707-7145; e-mail: [email protected]; fax: (202) 707-7440. Information is also available on the Library's Bicentennial Web site at www.loc.gov/bicentennial.


The Library of Congress, founded April 24, 1800, is the nation's oldest federal cultural institution. It preserves a collection of 115 million items -- more than two-thirds of which are in media other than books. These include the largest map and film and television collections in the world. In addition to its primary mission of serving the research needs of the U.S. Congress, the Library serves all Americans through its popular Web site (www.loc.gov) and in its 23 reading rooms on Capitol Hill.

"We will celebrate with pride our first 200 years of Library history," said Librarian of Congress James H. Billington. "During that time, the Library has grown into the world's largest repository of knowledge and creativity, which it has preserved for all generations of Americans.

"We want to take advantage of this opportunity to energize national awareness of the critical role that all libraries play in keeping the spirit of creativity and free inquiry alive in our society."


PR 99-049
ISSN 0731-3527