The strain of anti-intellectualism that pervades American culture is always at war with those of us who value learning and believe that life is more than just a set of economic facts.
And this week is special. The Library is celebrating its 218th birthday (April 24, 1800).
So what is this thing, the Library of Congress? In its own words:
The Library of Congress is the largest library in the world, with more than 167 million items on approximately 838 miles of bookshelves. The collections include more than 39 million books and other printed materials, 3.6 million recordings, 14.8 million photographs, 5.5 million maps, 8.1 million pieces of sheet music and 72 million manuscripts. Source: Fascinating Facts | Library of Congress
There are lots of things about the Library you should know:
- When the British army invaded Maryland and set fire to Washington in August 1814, it burned the Library and its collection of 3,000 books. Five months later the Library purchased the collection of Thomas Jefferson, some 6,000 volumes, for about $24,000. Jefferson’s personal papers, notes, accounts, and correspondence were added later, and the collection now consists of about 27,000 items — including a draft of the Declaration of Independence.
- The Library receives about 15,000 items every working day and adds about 12,000 items to its collections daily. Most of these come through the U.S. Copyright Office. The Library must receive a copy of anything that carries a registered copyright.
- The smallest book in the Library is a 0.04-inch square copy of Ole King Cole. The largest book is a 5 x 7-foot book of images of Bhutan.
- The Library’s copy of the Gutenberg Bible is one of only three perfect copies in existence. It is on display whenever the Library is open for visitors.
- There are 5.5 million maps in the Library, 124,000 telephone directories, and 124,000 comic books.
- The oldest newspaper in the Library is Mercurius Publicas Comprising the Sum of Forraign Intelligence, December 29, 1659.
There is, of course, much more about the Library of Congress, including the fact that anyone 16 or older, can get a library card and do research there. Fortunately, many important and interesting parts of the Library’s collections are digitized and available to anyone who has an Internet connection.
The Library of Congress stands as a daily reminder of how Americans should think of themselves and what we all should strive to be — as opposed to the ludicrous strain of unthinking and unreflective populism that now infects civic life.
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