Monday, February 14, 2011

Interesting Facts About The Library of Congress

Recently I happened upon the television show Who Do You Think You Are. It has been one of those shows which I have always meant to check out, but never actually got around to watching. Well a good friend of mine suggested that I turn it on because the subject of that day's episode, Tim McGraw was in the Library of Congress. Well, quite naturally I switched over. It is a fascinating show and I highly recommend it.

I hadn't caught the part of the show where they mentioned exactly why they went there specifically, however since the Library of Congress is essentially the largest functioning research library in the world it is a choice place to look up historical records. Being exactly what it is it is safe to say it has a nice historical write up. So here is the link to get the full story.

Here are a few quick fun facts on the library though. It was established in 1800 by an act of Congress to establish a library for the use of the Congress. There was no internet or nightly news. Newspapers and journalism in general was about all you had. So basically Congress needed this information nearby to be able make able decisions on the issues of the day (or so it is theorized, hah). Well anyway, The War of 1812 flares up. Washington is invaded in 1814 and the Brits burn Washington and pillage the library. Remember books were rather valuable at the time. They were not as widespread as they are now.

This looks like the end, right. Well no, they would have probably gone and built another library anyway for the same reasons that they built the first. However, the Library of Congress was Thomas Jefferson's baby. He was dismayed at the loss and offered up his own private collection to restart the new library. Former President Jefferson's library was the largest private library in the U.S. at the time. It had around 6000 books. Many of which were rare volumes. There was one hitch though and this really changed the original mission of the library. President Jefferson's library was more wide-ranging in its subject matter. The original library was purely reference. The Jefferson library contained books on religion, philosophy and art amongst others. Eventually the Congress accepted President Jefferson's offer on the basis that it wasn't really known what subjects would be called upon for research. Thus, the true Library of Congress was born.

Today the library has 883 miles in shelving. It has 144 million items in stock with 33 million books in 460 languages. All this started with an initial grant of $5000 in 1800.

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