Monday, April 11, 2016

10 fun facts about the Library of Congress (LOC)

The Library of Congress is an architectural wonder. I first visited this building in 2012 and have been back three or four times since, the most recent being spring break at the end of March. The LOC is a fascinating place to see and there is plenty to do once inside. 

For today's post I thought I'd share some photos of the Library of Congress and a few fun facts.

The exterior of the Thomas Jefferson Building, center of the Library of Congress

10 fun facts about the Library of Congress (LOC)

1. The Library of Congress was established in 1800 and was located inside of the U.S. Capitol building. The idea was to establish an official place to keep reference books for government officials to use. The LOC didn't get its own building until much later. On Nov. 1, 1897 the new Library opened. This building was named the Thomas Jefferson Building in 1980.

2. The Thomas Jefferson Building contains 15 varieties of marble, 400,000 cubic feet of granite, bronze, gold and mahogany. In the center is a huge rotunda that contains artwork that is - in a word - amazing. Ornate. Stunning.

LOC main hall Washington DC
One angle of the Great Hall at the LOC
3. The modern LOC in Washington is comprised of three buildings - the Thomas Jefferson Building (the "main" building), the John Adams Building (built in 1938) and the James Madison Memorial Building (built in 1981). I've only been in the Jefferson Building, but looking forward to seeing the rest on a future visit downtown.

4. The LOC claims the honor of being the largest library in the world. It boasts 162 million items on about 838 miles of bookshelves. Its collection includes books and other print materials, photographs, recordings, maps, sheet music and manuscripts.

LOC's main research room
Main Reading Room at the LOC

5. The original LOC collection was burned by the British on Aug. 24, 1814 when forces set the still unfinished U.S. Capitol on fire. Thomas Jefferson, an avid lover of books, offered to sell his personal collection to the Library in order to "replace the devastations of British vandalism". The collection was purchased for $23,950 in 1815. It contained 6,487 volumes.

6. Congress, after several proposals and a lot of controversy, approved plans move the collection from the Capitol to a new building. The plans for the construction was approved in 1886. The design was decided to be one of Italian Renaissance style and was crafted by Washington architects John L. Smithmeyer and Paul J. Pelz. Construction was managed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Thomas Jefferson Building at the LOC
The floor detail in the LOC is beautiful
7. Visitors today can view Jefferson's book collection in a special exhibit located in the Thomas Jefferson Building. The original collection is not complete because a second fire, occurring on Dec. 24, 1851, destroyed about two-thirds of Jefferson's books that Congress had purchased decades before. 

8. In the exhibit, the books with the green ribbons are ones that Jefferson himself owned, books with gold ribbons were recent purchases to reconstitute Jefferson's library and no ribbon indicates books that are identical to Jefferson's and were elsewhere in the LOC. Book boxes mark spaces of the books the Library is still hoping to find.

Library of Congress, Jefferson's books
This is only a small section of Jefferson's grand collection of books. Visitors basically step into a circle showing the entire collection, which is meticulously sorted the way Jefferson placed the books.

9. Two notable bibles are on display at the LOC in the Great Hall. The handwritten Giant Bible of Mainz and the printed Gutenberg Bible. Both were produced in the mid-1450s. 

Library of Congress exhibits
The Gutenberg Bible, not a clear photo
10. You can use the LOC if you apply for a Reader Identification Card. Researchers must be 16 years and older and the card is good for two years. The application process is fairly easy, applicants need to go to the Madison Building, Room LM140 with their ID. To learn more, check the official website. Applications and renewals must be done in person.

11. Bonus fun fact: There is a tunnel that connects the LOC and the U.S. Capitol. Visitors touring either of the buildings can take the tunnel to get to the other (note: Visitors going from the LOC to the Capitol will be screened by additional security. Visitors going from the Capitol to the LOC have already gone through the extra screening).

Upon entering the Great Hall, it's easy to get overwhelmed with the beautiful detail, but there are lots of other interesting things to see and do. I recommend, if on Capitol Hill, definitely checking it out if you haven't already. The LOC is located next to the Supreme Court. It is open Monday through Saturday from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. It is closed on New Year's, Thanksgiving and Christmas. 

ornate ceilings, LOC


  1. Excellent and informative post. I have never visited here and I have to ask myself why? You have really done a great job of making this information packed article interesting and your photos are beautiful.

    1. Thanks so much for the nice comment. You know, I've been living here about 10 years and it wasn't until 2012 I went into the LOC. Who knew what I was missing?? Great stuff, I hope you can make it there sometime.

  2. I visited LOC in 2006 September as an International Visitor Leadership Program. It was a great opportunity to visit the world's largest library and feel proud to know that it has collected, the oldest material: Buddhist's Sutra printed in 770 AD.

    1. Isn't it amazing? I'm so glad you got the opportunity to visit the LOC while in town. Thanks so much for your comment!