Top of page

“…That wonderful city of books…”

Share this post:

This is the 4th anniversary of the Inside Adams blog.  Since that first post -  “…Never to be afraid of a book” – on October 30, 2009, we have published 273 blog posts on science, business, and the building.  Instead of looking back at previous blogs posts, I would like to tell you more about the Adams Building.

drawing of the planned Annex with a few trees
Drawing of Adams Building, Library of Congress Annex (Theodor Horydczak Collection/Library of Congress)

To put this building in context, according to the Library’s Fascinating Facts web page, the Library has “more than 155.3 million items on approximately 838 miles of bookshelves. The collections include more than 35 million books and other print materials, 3.4 million recordings, 13.6 million photographs, 5.4 million maps, 6.5 million pieces of sheet music and 68 million manuscripts.” It also receives about 15,000 items each working day and adds approximately 11,000 items to the collections every day.  All of that has to go somewhere, and one of those places is the John Adams Building.

Here are some numbers about the Adams Building:

  • there are five stories in height above ground
  • the fifth story is set back 35 feet
  • there are 180 miles of shelving (compared to 104 miles in the Jefferson Building)
  • there are 12 tiers/deck of stacks (extending from the cellar to the fourth floor)
  • each tier/deck holds roughly 1 million items for a total of 12 million (and counting)
  • each tier provides about 13 acres of shelf space

The types of materials that are housed in the Adams building have changed over time – even since 1973. Initially, many of the classes that moved over were science and technology-related but since 1973, the collections housed here have included business and social science titles (H Class), telephone directories, criss cross/street address directories, and the Asian collection (about 2.8 million items and growing).

For an early perspective on the Annex, I looked at past Annual Reports.  The 1938 edition, beginning on page 32, included floor plans for the soon to be finished building, and other “coming soon” information. The 1939 report had details on the newly opened building and included a nice early photo of the exterior of the new building.

photo taking at the back of the reading room looking forward. Tables with chairs on either side the top of the walls are devoid of murals but a few people are seated at the desks
One of annex general reading rooms showing desk with book carrier. ca 1940.

The 1939 report shed some light on why a photo of one of the readings rooms featured in this post had no murals. It seems that at the time this report was published, only four of the eight murals had been completed – those in the North Reading Room that illustrated Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. The murals in the South Reading Room that were to be dedicated to Thomas Jefferson, were still being worked on. It also talked about those divisions that were moving. Aeronautics had just recently moved into their new space on the 5th floor, and Cataloging along with the Z (Bibliography) collection, was moved to the new building that January. It was reported that it took three weeks for the transfer of the stocks, equipment, and files and was finished in time for the first working day of the year – January 3, 1939. In April of that year, books in classifications R (Medicine), S (Agriculture), T (Technology), U (Military Science), V (Naval Science), A (Polygraphy, now General Works), and Q (Science) were moved.  The Bindery and Newspapers (including their reading room in the basement) also moved to the Annex.

There have been many other posts about the building and its architectural details. To read those, just click on the John Adams Building blog category.

 The title of today’s post is a wonderful quote that I pulled from the article I featured in a 2012 post about how to get books from the Library’s collection written in 1902.

Add a Comment

This blog is governed by the general rules of respectful civil discourse. You are fully responsible for everything that you post. The content of all comments is released into the public domain unless clearly stated otherwise. The Library of Congress does not control the content posted. Nevertheless, the Library of Congress may monitor any user-generated content as it chooses and reserves the right to remove content for any reason whatever, without consent. Gratuitous links to sites are viewed as spam and may result in removed comments. We further reserve the right, in our sole discretion, to remove a user's privilege to post content on the Library site. Read our Comment and Posting Policy.

Required fields are indicated with an * asterisk.