Library of Congress

Library of Congress

The Library of Congress occupies three buildings on Capitol Hill. The Thomas Jefferson Building (1897) is the original separate Library of Congress building. (The Library began in 1800 inside the U.S. Capitol.) The John Adams Building was built in 1938 and the James Madison Memorial Building was completed in 1981. Other facilities include the High Density Storage Facility (2002) at Fort Meade, Md., and the Packard Campus for Audio Visual Conservation (2007) in Culpeper, Va.

An agency of the legislative branch of the U.S. government, the Library includes several internal divisions (or service units), including the Office of the Librarian, Congressional Research Service, U.S. Copyright Office, Law Library of Congress, Library Services, and National and International Outreach. You can download a PDF of the Library’s organizational chart. Adobe Acrobat Reader is required to view this document.

The Library of Congress
101 Independence Ave, SE
Washington, DC 20540

Collections

Today’s Library of Congress is an unparalleled world resource. The collection of more than 164 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; and the world’s largest collection of legal materials, films, maps, sheet music and sound recordings.

  • Learn more about the Library’s collections.
  • Explore the Library’s digital collections.

Year 2016 at a Glance

In fiscal year 2016 (October 2015 to September 2016), the Library of Congress …

Responded to more than 1 million reference requests from Congress, the public and other federal agencies and delivered approximately 18,380 volumes from the Library’s collections to congressional offices

Registered 414,269 claims to copyright through its U.S. Copyright Office

Circulated nearly 22 million copies of Braille and recorded books and magazines to more than 800,000 blind and physically handicapped reader accounts

Circulated more than 997,000 items for use inside and outside the Library

Preserved more than 10.5 million items from the Library’s collections

Recorded a total of 164,403,119 items in the collections:

  • 24,189,688 cataloged books in the Library of Congress classification system
  • 14,660,079 items in the nonclassified print collections, including books in large type and raised characters, incunabula (books printed before 1501), monographs and serials, bound newspapers, pamphlets, technical reports, and other printed material
  • 125,553,352 items in the nonclassified (special) collections, including:
    • 3,670,573 audio materials, (discs, tapes, talking books, other recorded formats)
    • 70,685,319 manuscripts
    • 5,581,756 maps
    • 17,153,167 microforms
    • 1,809,351 moving images
    • 8,189,340 items of sheet music
    • 15,071,355 visual materials including:
    • 14,290,385 photographs
    • 107,825 posters
    • 673,145 prints and drawings
    • 3,392,491 other items, (including machine-readable items)
    • Welcomed nearly 1.8 million onsite visitors and recorded 92.8 million visits and more than 454 million page views on the Library’s web properties

Employed 3,149 permanent staff members

Operated with a total fiscal 2016 appropriation of $642.04 million, including the authority to spend $42.13 million in receipts

 

History

The Library of Congress was established by an act of Congress in 1800 when President John Adams signed a bill providing for the transfer of the seat of government from Philadelphia to the new capital city of Washington. The legislation described a reference library for Congress only, containing “such books as may be necessary for the use of Congress – and for putting up a suitable apartment for containing them therein…”

Established with $5,000 appropriated by the legislation, the original library was housed in the new Capitol until August 1814, when invading British troops set fire to the Capitol Building, burning and pillaging the contents of the small library.

Within a month, retired President Thomas Jefferson offered his personal library as a replacement. Jefferson had spent 50 years accumulating books, “putting by everything which related to America, and indeed whatever was rare and valuable in every science”; his library was considered to be one of the finest in the United States. In offering his collection to Congress, Jefferson anticipated controversy over the nature of his collection, which included books in foreign languages and volumes of philosophy, science, literature, and other topics not normally viewed as part of a legislative library. He wrote, “I do not know that it contains any branch of science which Congress would wish to exclude from their collection; there is, in fact, no subject to which a Member of Congress may not have occasion to refer.”

In January 1815, Congress accepted Jefferson’s offer, appropriating $23,950 for his 6,487 books, and the foundation was laid for a great national library. The Jeffersonian concept of universality, the belief that all subjects are important to the library of the American legislature, is the philosophy and rationale behind the comprehensive collecting policies of today’s Library of Congress.

Ainsworth Rand Spofford, Librarian of Congress from 1864 to 1897, applied Jefferson’s philosophy on a grand scale and built the Library into a national institution. Spofford was responsible for the copyright law of 1870, which required all copyright applicants to send to the Library two copies of their work. This resulted in a flood of books, pamphlets, maps, music, prints, and photographs. Facing a shortage of shelf space at the Capitol, Spofford convinced Congress of the need for a new building, and in 1873 Congress authorized a competition to design plans for the new Library.

In 1886, after many proposals and much controversy, Congress authorized construction of a new Library building in the style of the Italian Renaissance in accordance with a design prepared by Washington architects John L. Smithmeyer and Paul J. Pelz.

The Congressional authorization was successful because of the hard work of two key Senators: Daniel W. Voorhees (Indiana), who served as chairman of the Joint Committee from 1879 to 1881, and Justin S. Morrill (Vermont), chairman of Senate Committee on Buildings and Grounds.

In 1888, General Thomas Lincoln Casey, chief of the Army Corps of Engineers, was placed in charge of construction. His chief assistant was Bernard R. Green, who was intimately involved with the building until his death in 1914. Beginning in 1892, a new architect, Edward Pearce Casey, the son of General Casey, began to supervise the interior work, including sculptural and painted decoration by more than 50 American artists.

When the Library of Congress building opened its doors to the public on November 1, 1897, it was hailed as a glorious national monument and “the largest, the costliest, and the safest” library building in the world.

Collections

Today’s Library of Congress is an unparalleled world resource. The collection includes millions of books, recordings, photographs, newspapers, maps and manuscripts.

Joint Committee on the Library

The Joint Committee on the Library (the oldest continuing Joint Committee of the U.S. Congress) was created on April 24, 1800, when President John Adams signed the bill establishing the federal government in Washington and creating the Library of Congress. The act appropriated $5,000 for “the purchase of such books as may be necessary for the use of Congress” after it moved to the new capital city of Washington. The Library’s appropriation for fiscal year 1811 officially made the Joint Committee on the Library a standing committee. From the 95th Congress forward, the Joint Committee on the Library has been composed of the chairman (or designee) and four members each from the Senate Committee on Rules and Administration and the Committee on House Administration. The chairmanship and vice chairmanship alternate between the House and Senate every Congress.