Fires in 1814 and 1851 destroyed much of the Library of Congress’s collection. In response to the first loss, President Jefferson sold his remaining 6,487 books to the library. Nothing explains the breadth of the man’s intellectual and political interests better than “Thomas Jefferson’s Library,” an ongoing exhibit opening April 12. Here you’ll find surviving originals as well as reproductions of volumes shelved in his original book-lined room at Monticello.
Since that 19th-century acquisition, the Library of Congress has become the world’s largest library, with 32 million books and other print materials for a total of 138 million items. A world of history, language, and culture can be found beyond the Great Hall and the magnificent Main Reading Room. And accessibility is about to be significantly increased.
Beginning April 12, the library will be more user-friendly as interactive exhibits devoted to the Great Hall, the creation of the United States, and Jefferson’s library open to the public. Visitors, on foot and online, will be able to “flip” the pages of documents too precious to be touched by hand—such as the Gutenberg Bible and a rough draft of the Declaration of Independence with Jefferson’s handwritten edits visible.
Among the maps and prints in the exhibit “Exploring the Early Americas”—which opened last year—is Martin Waldseemüller’s 1507 map of the world, the first to mention America.
To visit these four exhibits online, go to loc.gov; for the real thing, the address is 10 First St., SE; 202-707-8000.
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