The Library of Congress is America’s oldest cultural institution.

  • The Library of Congress
The Library of Congress
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Founded in 1800, the Library of Congress predates every other federal cultural institution in the United States — it’s so old, in fact, that it was brought into existence by the same bill that relocated the U.S. capital from Philadelphia to Washington, D.C. The nation’s second President, John Adams, approved said bill, which provided $5,000 (roughly $122,000 today) for books to be used by Congress. Two years later, Thomas Jefferson made the increasingly important librarian of Congress post a presidential appointment. From those humble origins, the repository of knowledge eventually became the world’s largest library: It was home to more than 175 million items as of September 2022, with more than 10,000 added every day.

Given the massive size of its collection, the Library of Congress is naturally home to a number of strange and fascinating objects. Its smallest book, Old King Cole, is a nursery rhyme measuring 1/25th of an inch, roughly the size of a period; its largest is a 5-by-7-foot photo book featuring images of Bhutan. In addition to books, the library houses audio materials, maps, sheet music, photographs, newspapers, presidential papers, manuscripts, and other media.

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