It’s Book Lover’s Day again!
Once upon a time, members of congress pretended to read (these days, they don’t bother reading anything with more than 140 characters). And since their assistants needed somewhere to hide while pretending to research problems, they built a library. (Some experts argue that the real reason for the Library of Congress is that it was the one place in the capital where Congressional members couldn’t talk loudly.)
Founded in 1800, the library behaved itself nicely for 14 years or so until the British torched the Capitol building (which was where the Library was at the time). You already know about the Capitol being burned down because you’ve seen the movie Olympus Has Fallen. The fire destroyed over 3,000 books and caused the Librarian to revoke all British library cards.
Thomas Jefferson offered (and by “offered” I mean “sold”) his personal collection of 6,487 books as the foundation for the new library. This gave congress the opportunity to fuss about what kind of books should be in the national library and where said books should be housed. It was a lovely fight at the time, but compared to today’s squabbles was really only a blip of a disagreement. (“Blip of a disagreement” is the technical term for a squabble that happened in the past and resulted in something actually being accomplished.)
Blah, blah, architects, blah, blah, funding, blah, blah, construction, and on November 1, 1897, the Library of Congress opened its new doors to the public and was called “the largest, the costliest, and the safest” library building in the world. Because what public project doesn’t want to be called that?
The LoC currently has more than 164 million items on more than 838 miles of bookshelves. This means you are unlikely to be able to read all the books there. That’s probably ok, because you are unlikely to want to read all of them—especially the ones that have “extra boring” stickers on their spines.
The Library also has other collections including maps, recording, photographs, sheet music, manuscripts, books in braille, comic books (seriously), and telephone messages (not seriously).
FACT: The smallest book in the Library of Congress is “Old King Cole.” It is 1/25” x 1/25”, which (in case you weren’t sure) is crazy small.
The Gutenberg Bible, one of the treasures of the Library of Congress, was purchased in 1930. The 15th-century work is one of three perfect copies on vellum in the world. It will not surprise you to learn that you are not allowed to check it out.
Happy Book Lover’s Day. Go read something.