Thursday, April 24, 2014

Thursday in History: A Library for Congress

Prior to 1800, United States Congressmen were bringing books from home and asking to be reimbursed for them. “We need them to do the important work of running the country!” they whined at the President.
“Fine,” John Adams huffed. He was busy trying to move out of a tiny city that the government was growing out of and into a newer, bigger place. “You can have a library when we get to our new city.”
“But we want it nooooow!” the congressmen complained.
“You have to wait and that’s the end of it!” the President shouted.
“Awww,” the congressmen moaned in unison, with pouty looks at the head of state.
Softened by their little faces, Madison sighed and said, “Look, I’ll give you five thousand dollars to start a library when we get there.”
The congressmen all looked up hopefully, and a loud chorus of cheering disrupted the President’s office until he yelled at them to be quiet and get back to work or they could forget the whole thing.
On this day in history in 1800, President John Adams signed the documentation that formalized the government’s move from the city of Philadelphia to Washington DC. Included in this was the foundation for the Library of Congress. And though the 3 maps and 740 books purchased by an excited Congress didn’t last long (due to the fire at the Capitol during the War of 1812), the Library survived with donations from individuals like Thomas Jefferson (who even sent over some cookbooks).
Bronze Entrance Doors by artist Lee Lawrie
on the east side of the John Adams Building
photo by Carol Highsmith, via wikipedia
Today, the Library of Congress is so large that it takes four buildings to contain it. It has more than 32 million books and is home to the largest rare book collection in North America. You can’t just go pick up a book and take it home with you, though. Books aren’t allowed to leave the building. Although if you need a book and aren’t in the DC area, you can get almost anything on inter-library loan, provided you don’t leave your local library with it.
And yes, the rule even applies to the cookbooks.

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