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Library of Congress

The Library of Congress was established by an act of Congress in 1800, and is the oldest federal cultural institution in the United States. Initially it was housed in the new Capitol in Washington, D.C., but British troops burned the Capitol building and stole the library materials. Retired president Thomas Jefferson then offered his personal library to the Congress. In January 1815, Congress accepted Jefferson's offer and purchased his library, which contained some 6,500 books, for $23,950. Ainsworth Rand Spofford, the institution's librarian from 1864 to 1897, was responsible for the copyright law of 1870. All copyright applicants sent two copies of their work to the library. That resulted in a flood of books, pamphlets, maps, music, prints, and photographs, after which Spofford convinced Congress that it should erect a new building. In 1873, Congress formally approved his proposal. In 1886, Congress decided to build the library in the Italian Renaissance style, as rendered by Washington architects John L. Smithmeyer and Paul J. Pelz. The chief of the Army Corps of Engineers, General Thomas Lincoln Casey, was given charge of construction in 1888. Edward Pearce Casey, Casey's son, supervised the interior work, including incorporating sculpture and painting into the design. Paintings from about 50 American artists were placed on display. The Library of Congress is the largest library in the world. There now are more than 130 million items, including 29 million catalogued books and other print materials in 460 languages, 58 million manuscripts, the largest rare book collection in North America, and the world's largest collection of legal materials, films, maps, sheet music, and sound recordings.