April 24th will be the 221st anniversary of the establishment of the Library of Congress. A law passed on April 24, 1800 called for a national book collection to be housed in a suitable location in the Capitol. Thomas Jefferson, an advocate for the library, believed that the United States Government needed information and ideas on all subjects to do its work; a library would achieve this purpose. Books purchased by Congress were placed in the office of the Clerk of the Senate. The library was placed in different parts of the building during the early 1800s. On August 14, 1814, when the British invaded Washington D.C. during the War of 1812, they burned the Capitol and the library was destroyed. To save the library, Thomas Jefferson sold his personal library of 6,000 volumes to the United States Government, which doubled the size of the national collection.
The Library of Congress suffered two more fires in 1825 and 1851. The 1851 fire destroyed 35,000 of its 55,000 volumes. (According to at least one contemporary newspaper report, President Millard Fillmore and several Congressmen pitched in to fight the fire personally!) To protect the library and provide space for its growing size, Congress approved the suggestion of Library of Congress Librarian Ainsworth Rand to house the library in a separate building. The library, named the Jefferson Building, was built in 1897. Its doors were opened to the public on November 1, 1897. The Library of Congress continued to grow and more buildings were needed to accommodate materials. The John Adams Building was completed in 1938, and the James Madison Memorial Building was constructed in 1981. To conserve its most fragile materials, the Library of Congress includes the High Density Storage Facility at Fort Meade, MD and a space for Audio Visual Conservation in Culpepper, VA.
Today, the Library of Congress houses a collection of more than 170 million items in 470 languages. It holds over 73 million manuscripts and the largest rare-book collection in North America. To learn more about the Library of Congress, please visit their website.