In 1783, James Madison first proposed creating a library for the use of Congress.Then George Washington became the new nations first president on April 30, 1789 with Philadelphia as its temporary seat of government.
President Washington then personally selected the location of a proposed new federal capital district along the Potomac River near the settlements of Georgetown and Alexandria.
Washington signed the Residence Act on July 16, 1790, officially approving the construction of the new capital.
On September 9, 1791, the three commissioners overseeing the capital’s construction named the city in honor of President Washington.
The federal district officially became Washington, the District of Columbia; or more commonly known as Washington, D.C.
George Washington then left office on March 4, 1797 and John Adams became the 2nd President of the United States of America.
Unfortunately, George Washington died December 14, 1799; before the new capital bearing his name was completed.
Then on April 24, 1800, one month before the federal capital was to move from Philadelphia to Washington, D.C., President John Adams signed an Act of Congress providing for the transfer of the seat of government which included an appropriation of $5,000 “for the purchase of such books as may be necessary for the use of Congress …, and for fitting up a suitable apartment for containing them….”
740 books and 3 maps for the newly created Library of Congress were ordered from London and housed in the new Capital before Congress held its first session in Washington, D.C. on November 17, 1800.
It was not until January 26, 1802 that President Thomas Jefferson signed the first law establishing a permanent building for the Library of Congress as well as the first Librarian of Congress.
Then in August of 1814, the Library of Congress was destroyed when the British set fire to the Library of Congress and destroyed the collection of some 3,000 volumes.
Within a month of the fire that destroyed the Library of Congress, former President Thomas Jefferson offered his personal library as a replacement. Jefferson had spent 50 years accumulating a wide variety of books, in several languages, in many subjects (philosophy, science, literature, architecture) and other topics not normally viewed as part of a legislative library, such as cookbooks, writing that, “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 of 1815, Congress accepted Jefferson’s offer, appropriating $23,950 to purchase his 6,487 books.
In 1815, another fire destroyed two thirds of the Jefferson collection, with only 2000 books surviving.
By 2008, the librarians at the Library of Congress had found replacements for all but 300 of the works that were in Jefferson’s original collection.
Thomas Jefferson Building
The oldest of the four United States Library of Congress buildings, the Thomas Jefferson Building was built between 1890 and 1897. It was originally known as the Library of Congress Building and is located on First Street SE, between Independence Avenue and East Capitol Street in Washington, D.C.
The second Library of Congress building is the John Adams Building located between Independence Avenue and East Capitol Street on 2nd Street SE, the block adjacent to the Thomas Jefferson Building. The building was originally built simply as an annex to the Jefferson Building. It opened its doors to the public on January 3, 1939.
The third building is the James Madison Memorial Building located between First and Second Streets on Independence Avenue SE. The building was constructed between 1971 and 1976, and serves as the official memorial to President James Madison. The Madison Building is also home to the Mary Pickford Theater, the “motion picture and television reading room” of the Library of Congress. The theater hosts regular free screenings of classic and contemporary movies and television shows.
The Packard Campus for Audio-Visual Conservation is 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. The centerpiece of the complex is a reproduction Art Deco movie theater that presents free movie screenings to the public on a semi-weekly basis.
Today, the Library of Congress is open for academic research to anyone with a Reader Identification Card. However, they are not allowed to remove library items from the reading rooms or the library buildings.
Since 1902, American libraries have been able to request books and other items through interlibrary loan from the Library of Congress if these items are not readily available elsewhere.
Through this, the Library of Congress has served as a “library of last resort”, according to former Librarian of Congress Herbert Putnam.
The Library of Congress lends books to other libraries with the stipulation that they be used only inside the borrowing library.
Now WE know em