Members of Congress make the laws of the land, and to do this, they need access to as much information as possible. The Library of Congress is the answer to this need, but it also shows exhibits, collects materials, and is a resource for everyone. An hour long tour of the building gives an overview of the art and architecture of the three buildings as well as the collection.
The early history of the Library of Congress.
As early as 1783, as a member of the Continental Congress, James Madison suggested a list of books which he believed would be helpful to legislators. In 1800, under President John Adams, the government was officially moved from Philadelphia to the new capital, Washington, D. C. The legislation providing for the move established the Library of Congress, which was to contain “such books as may be necessary for the use of Congress – and for putting up a suitable apartment for containing them….” The legislation provided $5,000 to create the library in the new Capitol. The suitable apartment has grown into three buildings, each named after a President of the United States who was involved in the creation of the library, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, and James Madison.
The British invade, fire destroys all, but Jefferson comes to the rescue.
In 1814 when the British invaded Washington, fires destroyed the library. Former President, Thomas Jefferson, who had retired to his Monticello home, offered his personal library as the beginning of a new collection. As Jefferson was a curious man who collected books on every topic, including foreign languages, philosophy, science, literature as well as everything American, this was an extremely valuable beginning to the new library. He is quoted as writing, “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.”
Jefferson’s collection of 6,487 books became the foundation for the new congressional library, which states that, “The Jeffersonian concept of universality, the belief that all subjects are important to the library of the American legislature, is the philosophy and rational behind the comprehensive collecting policies of today’s Library of Congress.” When the copyright law of 1870 required two copies of any work to be copyrighted to be sent to the library, the masses of books, music, maps, photographs, and literature overwhelmed the small library and a new building was authorized.
While it is not often on the top of a tourists must see sites when visiting Washington, the library exhibits are as varied as the people. The Bob Hope Gallery of American Entertainment has displays on performers, politics, and pop culture. Here to Stay: The Legacy of George and Ira Gershwin includes sheet music, photographs, manuscripts, and personal and business materials from the great Gershwin brothers. Several exhibits focus on early America and Native Americans.
Is it Heaven?
For anyone who loves reading, writing, or history, the Library of Congress is a pilgrimage. I have always believed that a good definition of heaven would be your favorite food, family, and friends, and the chance to spend eternity in the Library of Congress. You may not spend eternity, but on your next visit to our nation’s capital, a few hours would be well spent in these lovely buildings.
Source: Library of Congress