What Is the Library of Congress? President John Adams Created It 218 Years Ago

The Library of Congress is celebrating its 218th anniversary on Tuesday thanks to President John Adams. According to the Library of Congress, President Adams allocated $5,000 for books for the Congress in 1800 to be kept in the new home of the United States federal government, in Washington, D.C.

The library is now the oldest federal cultural institution in the country. The first books for the library were ordered in 1801 and kept in the capitol building before there was a designated location for them, according to the library.

library of congress An aerial view of the Library of Congress. The funding for the first books of the library was granted in 1800 by President John Adams. Carol M. Highsmith/Library of Congress

After Adams lost the presidency to Thomas Jefferson, the library became Jefferson’s responsibility.

In 1802, President Thomas Jefferson made it law that the current president would have the power to appoint the Librarian of Congress, though there have only been 14 over the course of the library’s history. He also defined the other functions of the Library of Congress.

Jefferson sold most of his own books to the library in 1815 after the British burned the 3,000 books the library had in 1814, according to the Thomas Jefferson Foundation.

library of congress thomas jefferson building The Great Hall at the Library of Congress in the Thomas Jefferson Building. Carol M. Highsmith/Library of Congress

In the earlier years, the library purely served as a legislative institution to the Congress through what is now called the Congressional Research Service. It has since evolved to also serve national and international roles and is widely known as the national library of the country. It’s the largest library in the world, boasting a collection that holds over 167 million books, photos, historic documents and more, according to the library.

While it's used as the research arm of Congress, it’s also open to the public. Anyone over the age of 16 can view the collections of the library and do research there. However, books and works that are part of the library’s collection can’t be checked out, according to the library. The library also holds events like concerts and lectures for the public.

library of congress reading room The main reading room of the Library of Congress in the Thomas Jefferson Building. Carol M. Highsmith/Library of Congress ​​