The Library of Congress by the Numbers

AuthorHouse has one. There are over 123,000 of them in the U.S., and some estimates put the number worldwide at approximately 1,000,000.  As self-published writers, there’s a good chance you even have one in your own home. What are we talking about? Libraries, of course.


Today, though, AuthorHouse will discuss the library of libraries (in the United States, at least): the Library of Congress.


A Brief History


The main reading room of the Library of Conress

The main reading room of the Library of Conress

Established in 1800, the Library of Congress is the research library of the United States Congress, and the de facto national library of the U.S. Along with the British Library, it’s one of the two largest libraries in the world.


It had humble beginnings, with 740 books and three maps in 1800. It had grown to 3,000 volumes in 1814, when British troops burned the Capitol building and destroyed the collection.


Luckily, on January 30, 1815, Congress approved the purchase of Thomas Jefferson’s personnel library (6,487 books) for $23,950.


The library’s collection was up to 55,000 volumes on December 24, 1851, when the largest fire in the library’s history destroyed over half of them. In 1852, Congress approved funding to replace the lost books, and by the end of the Civil War the collection had grown to more than 80,000.


By 1876, the library had 300,000 volumes, tying it with the Boston Public Library as the nation’s largest; when it moved to its new location in 1897, it had over 840,000.


The Library of Congress Today


Today, the library’s collection includes more than 32 million books (and other printed materials) in 470 different languages. It also has 61 million manuscripts (making it the largest rare book collection in the country), more than a million government publications, over almost 15 million prints and photographs, and half a million microfilm reels.


Not enough? Then how about 120,000 comic books, 5,300,000 maps, 6,000,000 works of sheet music, over 3,000,000 sound recordings, and over a million issues of world newspapers from the last three centuries.


These items are stored on 838 miles of bookshelves.


The library is always growing and receives approximately 22,000 items each working day (roughly half of which it adds to its collections). Most of these are the result of the copyright registration process, since the U.S. Copyright Office is housed here also.


Care to browse? Unfortunately, only members of Congress can actually check items out of the library, but registered visitors can view items on the premises.


So if you happen to be in Washington, stop by 101 Independence Avenue and be one of the almost two million visitors the library hosts each year!


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