Library of Congress
The Library of Congress is the national library of the United States and the
research arm of the United States Congress. It is the largest by shelf space
and one of the most important libraries in the world. Its collections include
more than 30 million catalogued books and other print materials in 470
languages; more than 58 million manuscripts; the largest rare book collection
in North America.
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It includes over 1 million US Government publications; 1 million issues of
world newspapers spanning the past three centuries; 33,000 bound newspaper
volumes; 500,000 microfilm reels; over 6,000 comic book titles; the world's
largest collection of legal materials; films; 4.8 million maps; sheet music;
and 2.7 million sound recordings.
The Library of Congress was established on April 24, 1800, when President
John Adams signed an act of Congress providing for the transfer of the seat of
government from Philadelphia to the new capital city of Washington.
The original library was housed in the new Capitol building until August 1814,
when invading British troops set fire to the Capitol building, destroying the
contents of the small library (3,000 volumes).
Within a month, former 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. Jefferson, who was heavily indebted, sought to use the proceeds
of the sale of his books to satisfy his creditors. He 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, such as cookbooks. To satisfy any
objections as to the suitability of his collection for Congress' use, 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 todays Library of Congress.
The Library serves as a legal repository for copyright protection and copyright
registration, and as the base for the United States Copyright Office. Regardless
of whether they are seeking copyright, all publishers are required to submit two
copies of their copyrightable works to the Library - this requirement is known
as mandatory deposit. Parties wishing not to publish, need only submit one copy
of their work. Nearly 22,000 new items published in the U.S. arrive every business
day at the Library. Contrary to popular belief, however, the Library does not
retain all of these works in its permanent collection, although it does add an
average of 10,000 items per day. Rejected items are used in trades with other
libraries around the world, distributed to federal agencies, or donated to
schools, communities, and other organizations within the United States. As
is true of many similar libraries, the Library of Congress retains copies of
every publication in the English language which is deemed significant.
The Library of Congress
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