I love the Library of Congress! It’s a book lover’s dream destination, or at least this book lover!
Main Reading Room
Established in 1800 by an act of Congress it was initially established as a reference library for Congress’s use only and housed in the new U.S. Capitol building. Unfortunately when the Capitol was burned to the ground in 1814 by British troops the entire library was lost as well.
That’s when that famous red-headed bibliophile, retired President Thomas Jefferson, stepped in and offered his library of over 6,000 books to the country. Jefferson’s library was a bit controversial because it included foreign language books, books on philosophy and even, be still my heart, literature!! But the government purchased the entire library for the low, low price of $23,000 (it’s hard to believe that Jefferson was always broke!) and the foundation for this great institution was laid.
Part of the original Jefferson Library
Today the library has a collection of over 144 million items, including films, sound recordings, sheet music, maps and of course books! There are events going on all the time, concerts, lectures and even films. And you can always just go in and look at the beautiful Jefferson building and take a tour. There is usually an exhibit or two to stroll through as well.
Ceiling in the LOC
Currently one of the library’s exhibits is entitled, “Books that Shaped America”. They’ve compiled a list of 88 books for this exhibit, but at their news release states:
“This list of ‘Books That Shaped America’ is a starting point. It is not a register of the ‘best’ American books–although many of them fit that description. Rather, the list is intended to spark a national conversation on books written by Americans that have influenced our lives, whether they appear on this initial list or not,” said Librarian of Congress James H. Billington. “We hope people will view the list and then nominate other titles. Finally, we hope people will choose to read and discuss some of the books on this list, reflecting our nation’s unique and extraordinary literary heritage, which the Library of Congress makes available to the world.”
The list is pretty diverse and includes everything from Thomas Paine’s, “Common Sense” to Harper Lee’s, “To Kill a Mockingbird“. There seems to be a good representation of different authors, subject matter and genres. Looking it over a few times I really couldn’t think of any glaring omissions, but I’m sure someone will…and I think that’s the point!
[I did notice that Benjamin Franklin managed to get three books on the list and I was thinking how mad that probably would have made John Adams!]
I’m just sorry I didn’t have time on my last visit to get over to the LOC and take a gander at this exhibit!