The Library of Congress in Washington, D.C., is the world’s largest library and perhaps the greatest collection of stored knowledge in history. It contains more than 140 million items, including maps, photographs, films, and recordings, on 650 miles of bookshelves. About 10,000 items are added every workday.
Congress established the library on April 24, 1800, when President John Adams signed a bill appropriating $5,000 for “the purchase of such books as may be necessary for the use of Congress” after it moved to Washington, the new capital city. The first books, ordered from London, arrived in 1801. The original collection consisted of 740 volumes and 3 maps.
The first collection was destroyed during the War of 1812 when the British burned the Capitol. Thomas Jefferson offered to replace it by selling Congress his personal library, one of the finest in the country. In 1815 Congress appropriated $23,950 to buy his 6,487 books. The Jefferson collection became the core of the Library of Congress.
The library serves as the research arm of Congress and the “storehouse of the national memory.” Unlike many other national libraries, its collection is not for scholars only. Anyone over high school age may use it. It also makes available, via the Internet, millions of files containing digitized versions of its collections. A library of the people, it has become a symbol of Americans’ faith in the power of learning.