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An Elemental Space

Earth, air, fire and water, sometimes called the triplicities, play an important part in astrology. The term “triplicities” comes from the fact that there are three zodiac signs associated with each of the four elements. The sun also plays an important part in astrology, representing that which allows us to shine—whether through personal power, creativity, health, spontaneity, or authority, among others.

European Reading Room. 2008 Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. 1791

Many of the beautiful images adorning the halls of the Library feature such symbols—take note of the giant zodiac on the floor of the Great Hall. In fact, a sunny space in the southeast corner of the Thomas Jefferson Building, known as the Hall of Elements, is adorned with pastel-colored paintings representing the four elements and crowned by a disc in the domed ceiling that represents the sun. Although astrologers aren’t charting their future on its walls, the room does see researchers and scholars coming and going. The room is the new home of the European Reading Room, which was previously located in the adjacent second-floor South Curtain and moved because more exhibition space was needed. The October 2008 issue of the Library of Congress Information Bulletin has more information on the move.

In 1906 the Library purchased the 80,000-volume collection of Russian bibliophile Genadii Yudin, making the Library a leading center for Slavic research in the United States. Then-Librarian of Congress Herbert Putnam created a Slavic Section in 1907 to accommodate this acquisition. The Slavic Section evolved into a Slavic Division in 1919, providing cataloging and reference services.

During the 1950s, as new countries were added to its area of responsibility, the Slavic Division evolved into the Slavic and East European Division. The name was changed to the European Division in 1978, when it was expanded to include all of Europe except Iberia and Great Britain.

The Library has been collecting materials relating to Europe since the acquisition of Thomas Jefferson’s personal library. Today, these collections are among the finest in the world, including the largest assemblage of Russian-language materials in the United States and outside of Russia (more than 750,000). The French and German collections are also some of the strongest.

A highlight of the materials available in the reading room include the Classics Collection—the complete or collected works of leading authors from most European countries, including Pushkin, Dostoevsky and Tolstoy from Russia, Goethe and Schiller from Germany, Mickiewicz from Poland, and Shevchenko from Ukraine.

Of course, the Library’s European collections can be found throughout the various divisions in the institution. An overview of each collection offers a breakdown of where else they can be found.

A. European Reading Room. 2008. Michaela McNichol. Library of Congress. Reproduction Information: Reproduction information not available.

B. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. 1791. Prints and Photographs Division. Reproduction Information: Reproduction No.: LC-USZ62-70231 (b&w film copy neg.); Call No.: BIOG FILE - GOETHE, JOHANN WOLFGANG VON, 1749-1832 [item] [P&P]