101 Independence Ave. SE
HOURS: Mon.-Sat. 8:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m.;
tours Mon.-Fri. 10:30 a.m., 11:30 a.m., 2:30 p.m., and 3:30 p.m.,
Sat. 10:30 a.m., 11:30 a.m., and 2:30 p.m.;
closed Thanksgiving, Christmas Day, and New Year’s Day
Add one more thing the country owes to Thomas Jefferson, besides importing ice cream and waffles and drafting the Declaration of Independence: In financial straits near the end of his life, he sold his personal library of 6,487 books to Congress after its collection was burned by the British in 1814, supplying the basis for what has grown into the largest library in the world, with 147 million items, including 33 million books and other print materials on nearly 840 miles of shelves.
The Library of Congress occupies three buildings on Capitol Hill and has numerous facilities elsewhere, including a high-density storage warehouse at Fort Meade, Maryland, and a film preservation center underground in Culpeper, Virginia.
The primary structure of the Library of Congress is the Jefferson Building, a grand Italian Renaissance building that opened to the public in 1897 and contains several of the country’s most valuable artifacts, including one of only three existing perfect copies of the Gutenberg Bible printed on vellum.
Rotating exhibits off the Jefferson Building’s Great Hall highlight the history of the nation’s great documents—the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights—or focus on the importance of communication and the written word in societies throughout history.
A spectator’s gallery over the Main Reading Room can be accessed by a stairway in the Great Hall, giving visitors a glimpse of the library’s majestic four-story research room. This vast domed space features stained glass replicas of the seals of 48 states, an elaborate gilt frieze, and 16 statues that depict famous representatives of subjects ranging from art and commerce to religion and history.
Visitors who see the reading room often wonder how they can get a library card. Passes are available to anyone conducting research over the age of 18 who holds a valid ID card and proof of address. Requests can be made at the library’s Madison Building. It can take librarians up to 45 minutes to retrieve a book or material if it is located on-site. If the item is elsewhere, it can take a few days.
The Library of Congress is not a lending library; all research must be done on the premises.