The History and Development of the Library of Congress

The men who were instrumental in the founding of the United States were men who were well-read and who valued education. Many of them had extensive personal libraries, so they soon recognized the need for a national library to serve the Congress and the American people.

The Library of Congress began in 1800. $5,000 was made available to purchase books that would be of use to those serving in the Congress. When President Thomas Jefferson took office, he appointed the first Librarian of Congress. President Jefferson would play a crucial role in the future of the Library of Congress.

During the War of 1812, The British invaded Washington, DC. The Capitol Building was sacked and burned. The books in the Library of Congress were destroyed. In order to replenish the Library of Congress, former President Jefferson sold his collection of over 6,400 books to the Congress.

For many years, the Library of Congress was just what its name implies. It was primarily used as a place of research for those serving in the House of Representatives and the Senate.

That changed when Ainsworth Rand Spofford became the Librarian of Congress in 1864. Mr. Spofford began the practice of registering the copyright of books and maintaining at least one copy of books receiving a copyright. He also used his influence to convince the Congress to build a place to house the Library of Congress outside of the Capitol Building. In 1897, the Library of Congress building was completed and dedicated.

During the early part of the 20th Century, the Library of Congress expanded its services to help other libraries across the United States. Catalogs of books were published so that libraries were made aware of books that could be purchased for local libraries. Research materials were made available for libraries as well.

Starting in the 1990s, the Library of Congress made a technological leap to bring it fully into the modern age. The collection of the Library of Congress was fully digitized under the direction of Librarian of Congress James Billington. The Library also opened the National Audio-Visual Center in order to house these types of items for the research purposes of future generations.

In 2016, the Library of Congress made history when the first African-American was appointed Librarian of Congress. It will be Carla Hayden’s job to move the Library of Congress ahead in the future and continue to make the Library relevant in years to come.

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