THE LIBRARY OF CONGRESS

The Library of Congress is the research library of the United States Congress, de facto national library of the United States, and the oldest federal cultural institution in the United States. Located in three buildings in Washington, D.C., it is the largest library in the world by shelf space and holds the largest number of books. The head of the Library is the Librarian of Congress, currently James H. Billington.

The Library of Congress was established by Congress in 1800, and was housed in the United States Capitol for most of the 19th century. After much of the original collection had been destroyed during the War of 1812, Thomas Jefferson sold 6487 books, his entire personal collection, to the library in 1815. After a period of decline during the mid-19th century the Library of Congress began to grow rapidly in both size and importance after the American Civil War, culminating in the construction of a separate library building and the transference of all copyright deposit holdings to the Library. During the rapid expansion of the 20th century the Library of Congress assumed a preeminent public role, becoming a "library of last resort" and expanding its mission for the benefit of scholars and the American people. The Library's primary mission is researching inquiries made by members of Congress through the Congressional Research Service; although it is open to the public, only legislators, Supreme Court justices and other high-ranking government officials may check out books. As the de facto national library, the Library of Congress promotes literacy and American literature through projects such as the American Folklife Center, American Memory, Center for the Book and Poet Laureate.

    Buildings of the library include:

  • The Thomas Jefferson Building - Located between Independence Avenue and East Capitol Street on First Street SE. It first opened in 1897 as the main building of the Library and is the oldest of the three buildings. Known originally as the Library of Congress Building or Main Building, it took its present name on June 13, 1980. John Adams Building - Located between Independence Avenue and East Capitol Street on 2nd Street SE. It opened in 1938 as an annex to the main building. Between April 13, 1976 and June 13, 1980, the John Adams Building was known as the Thomas Jefferson Building.
  • James Madison Memorial Building -Located between First and Second Streets on Independence Avenue SE. It opened on May 28, 1980 as the new headquarters of the Library. The James Madison Memorial Building also serves as the official memorial to James Madison. It houses, among other materials, the law library of Congress.
  • Packard Campus for Audio-Visual Conservation - The Library of Congress's newest building, opened in 2007 and located in Culpeper, Virginia. It was constructed out of a former Federal Reserve storage center and Cold War bunker. The campus is designed to act as a single site to store all of the library's movie, television, and sound collections. It is named to honor David Woodley Packard, whose Packard Humanities Institute oversaw design and construction of the facility.