Happy Birthday, Library of Congress!

Posted by on Apr 17, 2024 in Stuff You Should Know, United States History

On April 24, 2024, the Library of Congress celebrates its 224th birthday. The Library of Congress is the largest library in the world. It serves members, committees, and staff of the U.S. Congress. In addition, other government agencies, libraries within and outside of the United States, scholars, researchers, artists, and scientists use its resources. 


The Library of Congress was founded on April 24, 1800. President John Adams approved $5,000 for the purchase of its first books from London, England. They arrived in 1801 and were stored in the U.S. Capitol.

In 1802, President Thomas Jefferson approved legislation that defined the role of the Library of Congress: to make its resources available and useful to the Congress and to the American people. The library is also responsible for preserving a collection of knowledge and creativity for future generations.  


During the War of 1812, the library’s growing collection of 3,000 books was destroyed when the British burned the Capitol building. To restore the collection, Congress approved the purchase of Thomas Jefferson’s personal library in 1815. In 1851, however, another fire destroyed over two-thirds of that library’s contents.  

In the late 1860s, Ainsworth Rand Spofford was appointed as Librarian of Congress. Spofford suggested that the library be moved to its own building. Today, the Library of Congress includes three buildings on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. Spofford also worked for the passage of the Copyright Law of 1870. This law placed the location of the Copyright Office in the Library of Congress. It also required that anyone who sought a copyright had to provide two copies of the work, including books, pamphlets, maps, photographs, music, and prints to the library. Because of this, the catalog of items in the library grew extensively.  

What’s in the Library of Congress? 

Visitors in the permanent exhibit of Thomas Jefferson’s books at the Library of Congress in Washington, DC.
Visitors view the Jefferson’s books at the Library of Congress.

On an average workday, the Library of Congress receives about 22,000 items. It adds about 10,000 of these items to its collections. Most items are obtained because of copyright law, but other items are acquired through gifts, donations, and exchanges with U.S. government agencies and other libraries around the world. It is estimated that today the Library of Congress has about 164 million items in all types of formats, languages, and subjects.  

The Library includes the following treasures: 

  • the Gutenberg Bible, one of the first books printed in Europe with moveable metal type. 
  • Thomas Jefferson’s handwritten draft of the Declaration of Independence. 
  • the Emancipation Proclamation personally written by Abraham Lincoln. 
  • works of famous Americans, including Alexander Graham Bell, Frederick Douglass, Susan B. Anthony, and Irving Berlin. 
  • baseball cards, comic books, and cookbooks. 
  • maps, photographs, posters, movies, and more. 

For those people who cannot visit the actual Library of Congress on Capitol Hill, you can check out the vast number of resources available at the library’s website: 

Dig Deeper Explore the Library of Congress website at  Browse the different collections. Give a short presentation to your class using presentation software about a specific item in the collection. Explain why the item and the collection are important to the history and culture of the United States.