The US Library of Congress is the oldest national establishment for culture in the country, and provides Congressional policymakers with research services, as well. With over 130 million pieces on over 500 miles of shelving, it is the most extensive library collection worldwide. The library's purpose is to facilitate congressional and public access to its resources, and to maintain a comprehensive depository of learning and creativity for countless American generations to come. The majestic Thomas Jefferson Building of the Library of Congress Washington DC, with its Italian Renaissance design full of sculptures, mosaics, paintings and murals, is one of the US's most distinguished accomplishments in architecture.
The history of the Library of Congress reflects the extent to which people of the time celebrated and preserved learning. After its founding in 1800, the Library was housed in a boarding house and later in the Capitol. Its first permanent building -- now called the Thomas Jefferson Building -- was opened in 1897. The John Adams Building was completed in 1939 and the James Madison Memorial Building in 1980. A true work of the people, over 50 talented Americans gave their artistic skills in sculpting, painting and mosaic to the structure. It was meant to showcase the culture and artistic style of the fledgling Republic, and is still today one of the most admirable buildings of that era.
Some of the most significant treasures and history of the Library of Congress' enormous holdings are exhibited in rotation at the recently added "Treasures Gallery," which is on the Great Hall's second floor in the Southwest Gallery and Pavilion. Individual items will change from time to time for preservation reasons. Displays from Thomas Jefferson's rough draft of the Declaration of Independence to the piano and other belongings used by American composers Ira and George Gershwin, can be enjoyed. Also, The Gutenberg Bible and the Giant Bible of Mainz are on permanent display on the first floor of the Great Hall. Other changing exhibits are mounted in public areas and reading rooms in the three buildings.
Today's US Library of Congress is an unequaled world resource. Its collection of over 130 million items includes more than 29 million cataloged books and print materials in 460 languages; more than 58 million manuscripts; the most extensive collection of hard-to-find books in North America; and the biggest assembly in the world of audio recordings, films, music scores, maps and legal documents.
The best part of visiting the Library of Congress Washington DC is the spectacular Great Hall in the Thomas Jefferson Building, whose stained class ceiling soars 75 feet above its marble floor. Stairways and columns, also of marble, and beautiful paintings and mosaics make this one of America's loveliest public buildings. Visitors may take one of several free guided tours offered daily and view a 12-minute film about the US Library of Congress in the Visitors' Center of the Jefferson Building. The Library of Congress Washington DC celebrates America's gifts to the body of universal knowledge, and its buildings serve as monuments to the learned individuals who championed this cause.