Cool Bookish Places: The Library of Congress

Library of Congress logo Despite being a native Washingtonian, I have a pretty strong disinterest in the workings of government. When I hear something that contains the phrase “of Congress,” I have flashbacks to dozing on my hand in high school Social Studies.

In the case of the Library of Congress, such an association is wildly inaccurate. The Library of Congress is a palace of wonders. Allow me to elaborate:

1. The LoC is in and is the largest library in the world. It holds 155.3 million items stored on approximately 838 miles of bookshelves.

2. That breaks down to 35 million books, 3.4 million audio recordings, 13.6 million photographs, 5.4 million maps, 6.5 million pieces of sheet music, and 68 million manuscripts.

Card catalog at the Library of Congress.

3. The LoC adds approximately 11,000 new items to its collections daily. Their paper card catalog (pictured above) hasn’t been updated since the 1980’s, but can still be used to locate older titles.

4. The LoC’s collections span 470 languages. Only about half of the library’s materials are in English.

5. The LoC is working with other libraries around the world to build a World Digital Library, which sounds too cool for words.

6. The LoC’s largest book is a 5-by-7 foot book featuring color images of Bhutan. It’s smallest book is a copy of Old King Cole that measures 1/25” x 1/25”.

7. The oldest item in the LoC is a cuneiform tablet from 2040 B.C.

8. The original Library of Congress was burned when the pesky British army set fire to the Capitol building in August of 1814. Retired President Thomas Jefferson sold the country his personal library of 6,487 volumes as a replacement shortly thereafter.

9. The LoC possesses the world’s largest collection of comic books.

10. It’s beautiful.

Library of Congress main reading room.

Ready to have your mind blown? I’m currently sitting at one those desks. Stay tuned for my mini-instruction manual for how to get your own little golden ticket to book heaven, otherwise known as a Library of Congress researcher’s card.

Facts and reading room photo via The Library of Congress. Card catalog photo via, lobby photo via.


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