When I talk with teachers about online primary sources from the Library of Congress, I often spend a few minutes describing the Library itself, and my colleagues thought that might be a useful post on this blog, too.
The Library of Congress, founded in 1800 to provide Congress with access to law books, was initially housed in the Capitol. When the Capitol burned in 1814, Thomas Jefferson offered to sell his personal library, which had books in many languages and on topics as varied as architecture, beekeeping and philosophy, to replace the destroyed legislative reference books. Anticipating controversy about buying his wide-ranging collection, Jefferson famously wrote, “…there is, in fact, no subject to which a Member of Congress may not have occasion to refer.” After some debate about the scope of what Jefferson offered, Congress purchased Jefferson’s library in its entirety, changing the essential nature and focus of the Library from a law library to a comprehensive collection.
The scope of the Library’s collections expanded on an even greater scale when, in 1870, copyright became centralized and required applicants to send to the Library two copies of their work. The collections grew from adding these copyright deposits, and the Library soon ran out of space in the Capitol. In 1897, the beautiful Thomas Jefferson building was completed to house the growing collections and opened its doors to the public.
Today the Library of Congress occupies three buildings across from the Capitol and collects manuscripts, films, maps, photographs and, of course, books, in 430 languages. The collections continue to grow, with the Library adding approximately 10,000 items each working day. Researchers who visit the Library have access to the materials, and visitors can see selected items on display in exhibitions, but the Library also has digitized millions of items and put them online to make them even more widely available and accessible.
To learn more about the Library of Congress:
Fascinating facts //www.loc.gov/about/facts.html
Universal access to knowledge is central to the mission of the Library of Congress, as it was to Thomas Jefferson. How have you used the Library’s primary sources to foster curiosity and support learning with your students?