April 24, 1800 – President John Adams Approves Legislation to Fund a Library for Congress

On this day in history, President Adams approved the appropriation of $5,000 to purchase “such books as may be necessary for the use of Congress.”

The Library of Congress today

The Library of Congress today

The first books, ordered from London, arrived in 1801 and consisted of 740 volumes and three maps.

On January 26, 1802, President Thomas Jefferson approved a law creating a Librarian of Congress and defining the Library’s role and functions. The 1802 law also permitted the president and vice president to borrow books.

In 1814, the British army burned the Capitol building, including the Library of Congress, which by then had grown to 3,000 volumes. Jefferson, now retired and looking for extra cash, offered to sell his own personal library of 6,487 volumes to Congress for $23,940.

In 1851, a fire destroyed two-thirds of the Library’s collection, including two-thirds of Jefferson’s books. Congress appropriated money to restore the Library and replace the books, but no extra funds were allocated for supplementation.

Ainsworth Spofford

Ainsworth Spofford

Ainsworth Spofford, who served from Librarian of Congress from 1865 to 1897, is credited with reorganizing and revitalizing the Library. Among other achievements, he worked to move all U.S. copyright activity to the library. Copyright deposits were used for collection development.

By 1897, when the Library moved across from the Capitol to a spacious new building, it had some 840,000 volumes as well as map, music, and graphic arts collections. Today, the Library has over 158 million physical items in its collections (including over 23 and a half million books).

You can learn more about the Library and its history here.

Inside the Library of Congress

Inside the Library of Congress


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