The Library of Congress is the research library of the United States Congress, the de facto national library of the United States of America, and the oldest federal cultural institution in the United States. Located in four buildings in Washington, D.C., as well as the Packard Campus in Culpeper, Virginia, it is the second largest library in the world by shelf space and number of books, the largest being The British Library. The head of the Library is the Librarian of Congress, currently James H. Billington.
The Library of Congress was instituted for the Congress of the United States when it moved in April 1800, after sitting for eleven years in the temporary capitals of New York City and Philadelphia and occupied the unfinished United States Capitol, at the beginning in the first completed north Senate wing. Later the south wing for the House of Representatives was constructed, leaving a covered wooden walkway between the two halves where the future central section, rotunda and dome would be placed. The small Congressional Library was housed in the United States Capitol for most of the 19th century until the early 1890s. Most of the original collection had been destroyed by the disastrous fire during the War of 1812 after the crushing defeat at the Battle of Bladensburg to the northeast of the Capital. The fire was purposely set by the invading British Army under the command of Gen. Robert Ross (1766-1814), and the infamous Vice Admiral George Cockburn (1772-1853), in August 1814. Their troops set fire to the unfinished rough village of the National Capital, burning the "President's House" (or "Executive Mansion", later known as the "White House" following a whitewashing/painting after the fire), The Capitol (also then called "Congress House"), the Post Office, small buildings surrounding the "President's House" for the War, State, Navy and Treasury Departments, and the waterfront Washington Navy Yardall except the Patent Office with its invaluable collections of diagrams, models and scientific papers, which was spared on pleas of the Architect of the Capitol, Dr. William Thornton (1759-1828). The British also destroyed the offices of a Washington newspaper and its printing presses and cases of type, in revenge for its "slanderous stories". The Burning of Washington was an act of calculated revenge for the burning the previous year by American troops of the British/Canadian capital town of York (now Toronto).
After the war, in 1815, former 3rd President Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) sold 6,487 books (his entire personal collection) from his estate of Monticello near Charlottesville, Virginia to the Congress of the United States and the Nation for the reconstituting of a new Library of Congress.
After a period of decline during the mid-19th century, another disaster of fire struck the Library in 1851, in its Capitol chambers, again destroying a large amount of the collection, including many of Jefferson's books. The Library of Congress then began to grow rapidly in both size and importance after the American Civil War and a campaign to purchase replacement copies for volumes that had been burned from other sources, collections and libraries (which had begun to speckle throughout the burgeoning U.S.A.). The Library received the right of transference of all copyrighted works to have two copies deposited of books, maps, illustrations and diagrams printed in the United States. It also began to increase its collections of British (second largest publishers) and European works and then of works published throughout the English-speaking world.
This development culminated in the construction during 1888-1894 of a separate, expansive library building across the street to the southeast from The Capitol. This building was in the ""Beaux Arts" architecture style with fine decorations, murals, paintings, marble halls, columns and steps, carved hardwoods and a stained glass domeall on a scale to match the magnificence of The Capitol itself. Several stories underground of steel and cast iron "stacks" were built beneath the "massive pile". Fire-proofing precautions were built in, so far as could be done in that era before piped sprinklers, portable fire extinguishers and electronic sensor technology.
During the continued more rapid expansion of the 20th century, the Library of Congress assumed a preeminent public role, becoming a "library of last resort" and expanding its mission for the benefit of researcher, scholars and the American people.
The Library's primary mission is researching inquiries made by members of Congress through the establishment of a "Congressional Research Service", established 1914. Although it is open to the public, only Library employees, Senators, Representatives as Members of Congress, Supreme Court justices, Secretaries of Executive Departments in the President's Cabinet, and other high-ranking government officials may check out books and materials. As the de facto national library of the United States, the Library of Congress promotes literacy and American literature through projects such as the American Folklife Center, American Memory, Center for the Book and Poet Laureate.
This is a often under-used genealogical repository for genealogists in Washington D.C. Their card catalog is on line. Give their card catalog a try. They have family genealogies (books), as well as early large city directories.
Before going to the "Local History and Genealogy" section of the Library of Congress (LOC), please know that their web site states: