Since its beginnings in the Capitol in 1800, the Library of Congress’ recurrent theme has been that, as acquisitions outpaced storage, the need for additional buildings became evident. A series of acts passed by Congress and signed into law by at least six different presidents gave us our current campus on Capitol Hill.
As early as 1871, the Librarian of Congress, Ainsworth Rand Spofford, made the suggestion that the Library of Congress was outgrowing its space in the Capitol and that the amount of deposits coming in through the new copyright law warranted a separate building for the collections. It was not until 1886 that President Grover Cleveland authorized the construction of the new Library building (24 Stat. 12). The foundation for the congressional library building began being laid the next year, and the Library opened in 1897.
The second facility built was the “annex” – located directly east of the main Library of Congress. On May 21, 1928, President Calvin Coolidge approved the congressional act authorizing the purchase of land for an additional Library building (45 Stat. 622). The next year, on June 13, President Herbert Hoover authorized the construction of the new building on the acquired land (46 Stat. 583). Herbert Putnam celebrated his 40th anniversary as the Librarian of Congress by opening the annex’s public reading rooms on April 5, 1939.
On May 14, 1960, President Dwight D. Eisenhower approved the joint resolution to “authorize preliminary study and review in connection with proposed additional building for the Library of Congress” (PL 86-469, 74 Stat. 132). This law appropriated $75,000 toward the preparation of preliminary plans and cost estimates for the new building. President Lyndon B. Johnson approved a supplemental appropriations act for fiscal year 1965 that authorized the construction of the third Library building and designated it as the official memorial to James Madison (79 Stat. 986).
On July 9, 1971, President Richard Nixon approved the appropriations budget for fiscal year 1972, thereby authorizing the funds for construction of the Madison Building (PL 92-51, 85 Stat. 125). The building opened on May 28, 1980. To differentiate the three Library buildings, the main building was officially named after Thomas Jefferson, and the annex was named after John Adams.
Even with the external signage and the distinctly different architecture of the three structures, if you ask a taxi driver to take you to the Library of Congress, chances are you will be dropped off in front of the Jefferson Building!