The Library of Congress
This is the world's largest library, with more than 29 million books and other printed materials, 2.7 million recordings, 12 million photographs, 4.8 million maps, and 58 million manuscripts, as well as letters, prints, movies, personal papers from scholars and celebrities (from Jefferson to Groucho Marx), and musical instruments. The total collection has more than 131 million items. Of course, only a fraction of this material is on display at any given time, so the exhibits change constantly.History of the Library
The Library of Congress was created by John Adams in 1800, “for the purchase of such books as may be necessary for the use of Congress.” It was originally housed in a boarding house and later moved to the Capitol, where the entire collection was torched by the British in 1814. Thomas Jefferson sold his personal collection of close to 7,000 books to the government to restart the library.
The first permanent home of the library — the Thomas Jefferson Building — was erected in 1897 and was expected to house the growing collection for decades, but it filled up in a mere thirteen years. Two additions have been built: the John Adams Building in 1939 and the James Madison Memorial Building in 1980. The Jefferson building underwent a major twelve-year renovation and reopened to the public in 1997.
There is a twelve-minute orientation film shown in the visitors' center in the Jefferson building, which gives you an overview and history of the library.Halls and Galleries
The exterior of the Jefferson building was designed to look like the Paris Opera House and has a very European fountain with a bronze statue of Neptune outside its front doors. The Great Hall of the Jefferson building features a domed interior and a stained-glass ceiling plus paintings, sculptures, and mosaics by fifty artists.
Anyone over eighteen may use the Library of Congress, but its holdings do not leave the premises. You have to obtain a user card, which is available by showing a valid driver's license or passport or by filling out an information sheet. The library's Web site has an interesting Kids and Families section.
The American Treasures exhibition showcases some 300 items that represent the breadth and depth of the Library's American historical items. The Bob Hope Gallery of American Entertainment, on the ground floor, includes items from the newly acquired Bob Hope Collection, materials from the rich and varied collections of the Library, and objects borrowed from the Bob Hope Archives. The comedian was a friend of every president of the United States since Franklin D. Roosevelt. On view are engaging photographs of Bob Hope making the presidents laugh and scores of political jokes from Hope's 89,000-plus-page personal Joke File, displayed in its entirety at the Library. Other items that have been on temporary display in the Library include Jefferson's handwritten draft of the Declaration of Independence, with notations from other signatories; Jelly Roll Morton's early compositions; Maya Lin's original drawing for the Vietnam Veterans Memorial; Alexander Graham Bell's notebooks; and George Gershwin's orchestral score for
The John Adams Building has murals illustrating scenes from
The library has a wealth of services for the physically challenged, including those with sight problems.Location and Hours
The Library of Congress faces the front of the Capitol (between East Capitol Street and Independence Avenue). If you plan to take the Metro, hop the Orange or Blue Line and get off at the Capitol South Metro station. The Visitors' Center is located inside the west front entrance of the Thomas Jefferson Building, Ground Level, and is open 10
Hours for the various buildings and facilities of the Library of Congress fluctuate, and even the newest of guidebooks has them wrong at times. Check with the Web site for the latest visitors' information.
The Madison Cafeteria is open weekdays from 9