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Library of Congress

Library of Congress
Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. [Source: Flickr/Library of Congress]
Aerial view showing the Library of Congress Thomas Jefferson Building, with East Capitol Street on the left and the James Madison Building on the right

Library of Congress, the de facto national library of the United States and the largest library in the world. Its collection was growing at a rate of about two million items per year; it reached more than 155 million items in 2012. The Library of Congress serves members, committees, and staff of the U.S. Congress, other government agencies, libraries throughout the country and the world, and the scholars, researchers, artists, and scientists who use its resources. It is the national centre for library service to the blind and physically handicapped, and it offers many concerts, lectures, and exhibitions for the general public. Those outside the Washington, D.C., area have access to the library’s growing electronic resources through the Library of Congress Web site at¹


  • 1800 - Library of Congress - The Library of Congress was established as the fledgling legislature of the new Republic prepared to move from Philadelphia to the new capital city of Washington. On April 24, 1800, Pres. John Adams approved legislation that appropriated $5,000 to purchase "such books as may be necessary for the use of Congress." 
  • 1802 - Library of Congress - President Thomas Jefferson approves a compromise act of Congress on Jan. 26 which states that the President of the United States will appoint the Librarian of Congress. 
  • 1812 - Library of Congress - The first classified Library catalog is published. It lists 3,076 volumes, and 53 maps, charts, and plans. An adjustment in the Library’s rules exempts members of Congress from overdue fines. 
  • 1814 - Library of Congress - In retaliation for the capture of York and the burning of its parliamentary building by American forces, the British capture Washington on Aug. 24 and burn the Capitol, destroying the Library of Congress. 
  • 1815 - Library of Congress - On Jan. 26, the House of Representatives approves the purchase of Jefferson’s 6,487-volume personal library for $23,950 to replace the collection lost in the fire. 
  • 1815 - Library of Congress - Jefferson's Library - On January 30, 1815, President James Madison approved an act of Congress appropriating $23,950 to purchase Thomas Jefferson’s library of 6,487 volumes. 
  • 1851 - Library of Congress - An accidental fire in the Library on Christmas Eve destroys approximately 35,000 volumes, including nearly two-thirds of Jefferson’s library. 
  • 1853 - Library of Congress - Designed by Architect of the Capitol Thomas U. Walter, a newly remodeled fireproof iron room for the Library opens on Aug. 23 in the Capitol’s west front. It is widely admired and becomes a tourist attraction. 
  • 1870 - Library of Congress - On July 8, President Ulysses S. Grant approves an act of Congress that centralizes all U.S. copyright registration and deposit activities at the Library of Congress. 
  • 1871 - Library of Congress - Librarian Ainsworth Rand Spofford informs Congress on Dec. 1 that the rapid flow of copyright deposits into the Library’s rooms in the Capitol will soon necessitate a separate Library building. 
  • 1897 - Library of Congress - After years of overcrowding in the Capitol, the monumental new Library building—now known as the Thomas Jefferson Building—officially opens to the public on Nov. 1. 

  • 1901 - Library of Congress - On Oct. 28, the Library announces that its printed catalog cards are now available for sale to libraries around the world. 
  • 1903 - Library of Congress - President Theodore Roosevelt issues an executive order on March 9 directing the transfer of the records of the Continental Congress and the personal papers of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, James Monroe and Benjamin Franklin from the State Department to the Library. The Library is home to the papers of 23 U.S. presidents. 
  • 1921 - Library of Congress - President Warren G. Harding issues an executive order on Sept. 29 that transfers the original copies of the Declaration of Independence and US Constitution to the Library for their safekeeping and display. The two documents are sent to their permanent home in the National Archives in 1952. 
  • 1930 - Library of Congress - On July 3, $1.5 million is appropriated for the purchase of the Vollbehr collection of incunabula, which includes the first Gutenberg Bible in the Western Hemisphere. 
  • 1931 - Library of Congress -The Pratt-Smoot Act, enacted on March 3, enables the Library to provide books for the use of adult blind readers of the United States and its territories. This act was the origin of the Library's National Library Services for the Blind and Physically Handicapped.  
  • 1939 - Library of Congress - A new Library Annex Building—later designated the John Adams Building—is opened to the general public on Jan. 3. 
  • 1944 - Library of Congress - The ballet "Appalachian Spring," commissioned by the Library, premiers in the Coolidge Auditorium on Oct. 30, with a performance by the Martha Graham Dance Company to the music of Aaron Copland. 
  • 1946 - Library of Congress - The Legislative Reorganization Act of 1946 is approved on Aug. 2, giving the Library’s Legislative Reference Service (LRS) permanent status as a separate Library department and providing for the hiring of nationally eminent specialists in 19 broad subject fields. The LRS was the precursor to today's Congressional Research Service at the Library. 
  • 1950 - Library of Congress - The Library celebrates its sesquicentennial on April 24. 
  • 1954 - Library of Congress - The Library receives the Brady-Handy photographic collection on Sept. 13, containing more than 3,000 negatives made by Civil War photographer Mathew B. Brady and several thousand by his nephew Levin C. Handy. 
  • 1958 - Library of Congress - In January, Librarian of Congress L. Quincy Mumford establishes an interdepartmental Committee on Mechanized Information Retrieval to study the “problem of applying machine methods to the control of the Library’s collections.” 
  • 1958 - Library of Congress - President Dwight D. Eisenhower approves an amendment to the Agricultural Trade Development and Assistance Act of 1954 (popularly known as Public Law 480) on Sept. 6, which greatly strengthens the overseas acquisition program of the Library of Congress. 
  • 1966 - Library of Congress - The Library opens its first National Program for Acquisitions and Cataloging (NPAC) office in London in June. The first regional office opens in October in Rio de Janeiro. 
  • 1969 - Library of Congress - With the mailing of the first computer tapes containing cataloging data on March 27, the Machine-Readable Cataloging (MARC) Distribution Service is inaugurated. 
  • 1980 - Library of Congress - The third major Library building on Capitol Hill, the James Madison Memorial Building, opens to the public on May 28. Later that year, the original 1897 Library building is renamed the Thomas Jefferson Building and its second building, opened in 1939, is designated the John Adams Building.
  • 1981 - Library of Congress - The Library stops filing cards into its main card catalog, and begins online cataloging of its collections officially on Jan. 1. 
  • 1994 - Library of Congress - At the dawn of the Internet era, the Library launches its website at along with its National Digital Library program aimed at digitizing primary sources related to the study of American history. 
  • 1995 - Library of Congress Subject Headings (LCSH) - COMPASS (Computer Aided Subject System) - BNB (British National Bibliography)  - Computer Aided Subject System (COMPASS) was replaced by Library of Congress Subject Headings (LCSH) in 1995. With the introduction of a COMPASS, BNB stopped including LCSH headings until protests from the users finally led to their reintroduction in 1995. With the substitution of LCSH for COMPASS  in 1995, the classified arrangement has no index at all. As a result, BNB no longer shows any direct translation of the notations.
  • 1999 - Library of Congress - Metromedia president John W. Kluge donates $60 million to establish the John W. Kluge Center for Scholars and Prize in the Human Sciences on Oct. 5. It is the largest private monetary gift in the Library’s history.

  • 2000 - Library of Congress - The Library celebrates its bicentennial during the year, culminating in the actual anniversary date on April 24.
  • 2001 - Library of Congress - The first National Book Festival, developed in cooperation with First Lady Laura Bush, takes place on Sept. 8.
  • 2007 - Library of Congress - The new Packard Campus for Audio-Visual Conservation located on a 45-acre site in Culpeper, Virginia, is transferred to the Library by the Packard Humanities Institute on July 26. The Institute provided $155 million for the design and construction of the four-building facility, the largest private gift ever made to the Library.
  • 2009 - Library of Congress - In Paris, Librarian James H. Billington announces on April 21 the launch of the World Digital Library, an international collaborative project developed with UNESCO and other organizations. 
  • 2012 - Library of Congress - BIBFRAME - In 2012, the Library of Congress announced that it had contracted with Zepheira, a data management company, to develop a linked data alternative to MARC. Later that year, the library announced a new model called MARC Resources (MARCR). That November, the library released a more complete draft of the model, renamed BIBFRAME
  • 2016 - Library of Congress Carla D. Hayden is sworn in as the 14th Librarian of Congress on Sept. 14. At the time of her installation, the Library’s collection of more than 162 million items includes more than 38 million cataloged books and other print materials in more than 470 languages; more than 70 million manuscripts; the largest rare book collection in North America; and the world’s largest collections of legal materials, films, maps, sheet music, and sound recordings. In fiscal year 2016, the Library employed 3,149 staff members and operated with a total 2016 appropriation of $642.04 million, including the authorization to spend $43.13 million in receipts. 
  • 2016 - Library of Congress - BIBFRAME - The Library of Congress released version 2.0 of BIBFRAME in 2016.

    1. Encyclopaedia Britannica, James H. Billington, "Library of Congress," Encyclopaedia Britannica (accessed January 3, 2019).