How Big Is The Library of Congress?

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The Library of Congress was established 209 years ago when President John Adams signed an Act of Congress that approved the appropriation of $5,000 for the purchase of "such books as may be necessary for the use of Congress" and for "fitting up a suitable apartment for containing them" (this same act also transferred the seat of the federal government from Philadelphia to Washington D.C.).

The first purchase was a collection of 740 books and 30 maps, ordered from London. Most of the books were about law, given Congress' legislative role, and the rest covered a wide variety of topics. They were first stored in the U.S. Capitol, the Library's first home.

In the two centuries since that first purchase, the Library has expanded quite a bit. Today, the Library is physically housed in three buildings: the Thomas Jefferson Building, the John Adams Building and the James Madison Memorial Building. The Library says that its collection takes up about 650 miles worth of shelf space and consists of over 142 million items. These items include:

"¢ more than 32 million cataloged books in 470 languages

"¢ some 62 million manuscripts

"¢ a rough draft of the Declaration of Independence and the first drafts of the Emancipation Proclamation and Gettysburg Address

"¢ one of the four perfect vellum copies of the Gutenberg Bible known to exist

"¢ over 1 million US government publications

"¢ 5.3 million maps, including a world map made by Martin Waldseemüller in 1507 that is the first known document on which the name "America" appears

"¢ 124,000 telephone books and city directories from 650 U.S. cities and towns.

"¢ 5,000 comic book titles (100,000 issues)

"¢ 1,000,000 loose issues, 33,300 bound volumes and 500,000 microfilm reels of newspapers from around the world

"¢ some 4.4 million foreign and domestic technical reports and standards

"¢ 70,000 foreign and domestic magazines

"¢ 5.6 million pieces of sheet music

"¢ 3 million sound recordings

"¢ 1 million film and video recordings

"¢ some 14 million prints, photographs and posters

"¢ two Stradivarius violins, one Stradivarius viola and one Stradivarius cello

If you've been to the library and have a story to share about any of these millions of items, let's hear it.

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June 1, 2009 - 6:03am
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