History of the Library of Congress

The Library of Congress is a renowned library housing its rich collections in three buildings – James Madison Memorial Building, John Adams Building and Thomas Jefferson Building. It is one of the oldest federal institutions as well as the US Congress’s research library. Consisting of millions of manuscripts, maps, books, photographs and recordings, this is the world’s largest library collection and is a priceless source of the American history. The library operations are managed by the administrative section.

Established in the Capitol Building in the year 1800, the library facilitated research work conducted by the Congress. President John Adams approved the building and the initial collections, worth $5000, consisted of law books sourced from England.

The contribution of Jefferson was invaluable during the formative years wherein he efficiently regulated the operations and put in several important processes in place. The early collection was destroyed in the year 1814 when the Capitol Building was invaded and the British soldiers set it on fire.

Thomas Jefferson contributed his personal collection of books that he had gathered over a period of 50 years on different subjects like literature, science and philosophy. This collection included several foreign language books. He was paid more than $20,000 for a collection of more than 6,450 books.

Later, Charles Coffin Jewett (Librarian of the Smithsonian Institution) and Joseph Henry (Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution) proposed two different approaches for the growth of this library. This was quite a tumultuous period as Charles wanted the Smithsonian Institution to become the official library of the US, whereas Joseph wanted to promote the Library of Congress as the national library of the country. Joseph was successful in dismissing Charles and transferred the precious collection of more than 40,000 volumes from Smithsonian Institution to the Library of Congress.

In the year 1864, Ainsworth Rand Spofford took over as the librarian and believed in the philosophy of Jefferson which dealt with the universality concept and took efforts to bring in various collections of books from all subjects. Due to his efforts, the library became a national institution.

Later, Spofford made it compulsory for the applicants of the US copyrights to send 2 copies of their work to the library. Soon, there was space crunch as the library was completely flooded with maps, music, prints, books and photographs among other rich collections due to which a new building was constructed in Italian Renaissance style and came to be known as the Thomas Jefferson Building.