Nov 12, 2023
The Prestigious Library with a Vast Collection

The Library of Congress

One of the most prestigious libraries in the world, the library of congress is home to a wide range of valuable collections. These include the world’s largest collection of published aeronautical literature as well as the personal papers of a number of famous figures from around the globe.

After weathering two world wars, the library expanded its collections and built a new building. Under the administration of Librarian Mumford, international horizons broadened as well.

The History of the Library

The Library grows, balancing its legislative, national and, after World War II, international roles. Its collections expand from a few thousand books to 103 million items in all formats: books, films, photographs, maps, music, manuscripts and graphic arts.

The collection includes a perfect copy of the Gutenberg Bible and the oldest written material in the world—a Sumerian cuneiform tablet dating from 2040 b.c. The Library also holds Edison kinetic-sound motion pictures and the first published musical compositions (by Fred Ott’s Sneeze, copyrighted in 1893).

Librarians Spofford, Putnam and MacLeish emphasize the Library’s role as a cultural institution. Historian Daniel J. Boorstin increases the Library’s public visibility and helps establish private sector support groups. His successor James H. Billington continues to build on Boorstin’s work, expanding the Library’s outreach and using new technologies to make its rich resources available to all Americans. The Library’s mission is enshrined in Jefferson’s words: “Educate and inform the mass of the people, and they will preserve what is their own.” (Letter to James Madison, 1815) This is the library’s fundamental goal today.

The Library’s Collections

Located in three imposing buildings across from the nation’s Capitol Building, the Library is home to 120 million books, sound recordings, films, maps, manuscripts, photographs, and other items. It is, as Putnam said, “a storehouse for knowledge and the center of a universal collection of human creativity.”

The Library’s collections are collected without regard to format or language; over 460 languages are represented. It selects from copyright deposits, purchases, and exchanges through its Cataloging in Publication program; from government agencies; and from state, local, and foreign libraries. Collection policy statements guide the selection process and help ensure that the Library possesses in some form the most important and scholarly works published in the United States.

The Library also serves Congress through its Congressional Research Service (CRS), which responds to thousands of requests each year with objective, independent information on a broad range of subjects. It is the largest and most comprehensive research library in the world on public policy issues.

The Library’s Services

The Library of Congress is the world’s largest repository of human knowledge and creativity. It houses 120 million items in three massive buildings across from the Capitol in Washington, DC. It serves Congress by providing research through the Congressional Research Service, as well as the public through books, catalogs, and online resources.

In addition, it administers the Copyright Office and operates the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped. It also provides information on the nation’s public policy to outside organizations and individuals through a fee-for-service system.

Its international collections are among the largest in the world. Its books include the full collection of the Bibliothèque nationale de France, the world’s largest law library, and a renowned collection of rare and historical books in over 460 languages. The Library of Congress has also built a preeminent collection of prints and photographs. It has a vast collection of sound recordings and motion pictures, and offers a variety of exhibits and educational programs.

The Library’s Events

As the world’s largest library, the Library hosts a variety of lectures, presentations and concerts. It is the home of the U.S. Copyright Office, which administers the Nation’s copyright laws for the public good and provides services and support to authors and users of creative works throughout the world.

Its three massive buildings, designed in styles ranging from classical Greek to Victorian Gothic, are monuments to civilization and American achievement. Besides serving members and committees of Congress, the Library also serves libraries throughout the country and the world, the blind and physically handicapped, scholars and researchers, and tourists.

The Library’s collections continue to grow thanks to the generosity of many donors. Examples include the private papers of President Lincoln donated by his family; rare Stradivarius violins given by music patron Lessing J. Rosenwald; and numerous works of art, including the Whistler collection. The Library of Congress is open daily and free to all. Timed-entry passes are available online.

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