TIMELINES: What library was established April 24, 1800, that is now the world’s largest?

April 24, 2012 Updated: September 29, 2015

Tuesday, April 24, 2012


April 24, 1800, the American Library of Congress (LOC) was established when President John Adams approved the appropriation of $5,000 to obtain “such books as may be necessary for the use of Congress.” The original location of the LOC was actually in the U.S. Capitol Building in Washington, D.C. The first full catalog was created in 1802 and lists over 950 volumes and nine maps. In 1814, however, the library was destroyed when British troops invaded Washington and burned the Capitol. In response to the loss, former President Thomas Jefferson decided to sell his personal library—consisting of 6,487 volumes and considered the nation’s largest and best at the time—to Congress in order to “recommence” the library. By the 1900s, the LOC had become one of the largest libraries in the world and the premier national resource for literary works, and more.


Today, the LOC is 212 years old and is the largest library in the world. It occupies three buildings on Capitol Hill: the Thomas Jefferson Building (completed in 1897), the John Adams Building (1938), and the James Madison Memorial Building (1981). The library has more than 151.8 million items on about 840 miles of shelves. In addition to books and other printed materials, the LOC is home to 3.3 million recordings, 13.4 million photographs, 5.4 million maps, 6.5 million pieces of sheet music and 66.6 million manuscripts. Last week, in honor of William Shakespeare’s birthday, in the LOC’s Madison Building, scenes from “Macbeth,” “Cymbeline,” “The Tempest,” “Richard III” and “Julius Caesar,” were performed by actors from the Shakespeare Theater Company’s Academy for Classical Acting at The George Washington University.