What is the Library of Congress?

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.

Library of Congress, to the right of the U.S. Capitol

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.

The Library Online

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:

History http://www.loc.gov/about/history.html

Fascinating facts http://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?

8 Comments

  1. Matt Cummings
    October 11, 2011 at 5:38 pm

    I have used pre-made lesson plans from your site, including “Lincoln’s Pockets” and the lesson “Connecting with Primary Sources” to introduce students to the subject. I have found my students are more enthused about learning when we introduce a topic from the Primary Source angle, and I try to use them as often as possible.

  2. Holly Gougeon
    October 12, 2011 at 10:02 am

    After attending the summer institute last June, I’ve used primary sources in an advanced reading class as a tie in to a historical fiction novel. I also used one of the map lesson plans with students in our after school program as an introduction to map skills.
    The students really seem to enjoy using magnifying glasses and being “historians” or detectives. I used the primary source analysis sheets for newspaper pages and maps with these two groups.
    We’ve also used the LOC website to do research on the Titanic and other topics related to our novel.

  3. mossayyeb samanian
    October 13, 2011 at 3:19 pm

    many peopls think about library of congress that it is the best largest library in the world but i am disagree with this people ,why?because my believe is the library of congress id the bigest universlty and it is globalization university and it is for all researcher and students
    i think one way is increasing conclustion please lets to make good opportuinty all resaercher vailable come there and uses in conclution and opportuinty studies.but you make many limited for iranian it is no good idea iranian people are werry good people in the word
    good luck

  4. Michelle Zupan
    October 17, 2011 at 10:05 am

    This past summer I taught 14 teachers in a Teaching with Primary Sources workshop. It amazed me how many of them had no idea the Library of Congress exists and what a fabulous resource it is. I had one teacher email me later to tell me the class had changed her life. She has taught for nearly 20 years and could not WAIT to change her entire approach to teaching using the Library’s resources. 120 middle school kids in Georgia are being introduced to a wonderful new world thanks to the Library and its work!

  5. Linda Greenbaum
    October 22, 2011 at 12:46 pm

    It is so coincidental that you posted this and the reason why you did. I just visited the LOC yesterday (I am a public librarian on Long Island) and, while I thoroughly enjoyed the tour, the docent only talked about the millions of books; and the wonderful art, architecture and history of the building. He also mentioned that the reading rooms are only 10% full at all times because of the wide usage of the Internet. He didn’t talk about the LOC website! and its amazing wealth of resources. This would have been a perfect segue into this information. People need to know about it. I wrote an email to Volunteer services about this.

  6. Garnet Wind
    January 5, 2012 at 6:06 pm

    If someone wanted to access the Library of Congress’s online resources, how would someone go about finding an overview or information on how teachers have been trained historically in the US or is that too wide of a topic? What could someone click on to take them to the actual resources or search listings? Thanks.

  7. Cheryl Lederle
    January 6, 2012 at 10:19 am

    Hello, Garnet! That interesting question would be difficult to answer using the Library’s online resources. A more rewarding approach would be to direct your question through the Ask a Librarian service http://www.loc.gov/rr/askalib/ to the Humanities/Social Sciences link. Experts there should be able to identify resources.

  8. Ms. Warren
    September 12, 2012 at 6:46 pm

    BEST RESOURCE…EVERY STUDENT SHOULD KNOW ABOUT IT AND VISIT IT SOMEDAY!! I ALWAYS TEACH MY 5TH GRADERS ALL ABOUT IT AND WE VISIT IT EVERY TIME I MEET WITH THEM IN THE MEDIA CENTER!! IT IS A LIFELONG TOOL, AND VERY RELEVANT TO TODAYS EDUCATIONAL STRUCTURE…MS WARREN.

    PS…I CANNOT UNDERSTAND THE COMMENTS IN EMAIL # 3 ON THIS PAGE!! WHAT IS THAT PERSON’S ISSUE AGAIN??

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