Library of CongressYou can’t borrow a book unless you’re a Senator or Representative, but you can hang around all day and read or listen to anything you like. It’s open to the public, even on


On April 24, 1800, America’s Second President, John Adams, set side $5,000 to purchase “such books as may be necessary for the use of Congress.”

Well, the idea sort of snowballed, and today the United States Library of Congress is the largest and most international library in the world, a vital research library, the world’s largest repository of priceless manuscripts, home to The US Copyright Office and the de facto National Library of the United States.

It contains over 32 million books, 33,000 newspapers, 120,000 comic books, 6 million pages of sheet music, 3 million sound recordings, 115 million photographs, 5.5 million maps, 500,000 reels of microfilm and 10 terabytes of digital information, with 20,000 items added per week.

The Library of Congress consists of 3 main buildings on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C.; the Thomas Jefferson Building, the John Adams Building and the James Madison Building, plus a Conservation Center in rural Virginia.

As well as books, rare books (including an original Gutenburg Bible, one of 3 still in existence), manuscripts and documents, The Library of Congress also preserves our film, videotape, photographic and musical recording heritage. The Madison Building contains the Motion Picture and Television Reading Room and The Mary Pickford Theater, where free screenings of movies and television shows are held regularly.

If the Smithsonian Institute is “America’s Attic,” think of the Library of Congress as America’s Hard Drive. If anyone noticed it in America, it’s recorded and enshrined there, and you can visit any time you like.

• Suggested Activities: Admiring an original copy of the Declaration of Independence and the first Mad Magazine while listening to Blind Blake’s “Early Morning Blues.”

Leave a Comment

Scroll to Top