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Jefferson’s Legacy: A Brief History of the Library of Congress

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>>We are thrilled to welcome everyone to the
Second Annual Online Conference for Educators. Our session today, Jefferson’s Legacy, a
Brief History of the Library of Congress. At this point, I want to
introduce our presenter. John Cole is the Library of Congress
historian, a position dedicated to serving as the top technical expert and advisor
on the history of Library of Congress, documenting institutional history
and conducting historical research. Cole was the founding director of the Center
of The Book at the Library of Congress, which was created by law in 1977. He has been instrumental in
shaping numerous literacy and reading promotion programs during his
50-year tenure at the library and is the author of several books about the institution. Welcome John, and take it away.>>Thank you very much. I am very pleased to be here to talk about one of my favorite subjects,
the Library of Congress. Today my purpose is to give you
an overview of the institution, and basically, what’s unique about it. Why the Library of Congress is
different from other institutions. Why its stories are interesting, and to give you
enough information to be able to talk about it, and I will be focusing, primarily, on some of
the pivotal characters and also on an overview of the role of the Library of Congress. Our roles are quite interesting. They’re outline before you. Serving Congress, we are part
of the legislative branch, the de facto national library,
which I will talk about briefly. In modern times, we have become
really an international institution. We are the home of the Copyright Office, which is normally an executive
function in most countries. No other de facto national library, I
believe, is also the copyright agency, and because we were created in 1800, we were
one of the first federal cultural institutions. We have developed into a cultural role through
the years that encompasses, in some ways, what happened in other countries through
national archives and national museums. In our country, you know, that the
Smithsonian was created in 1846. The national archives didn’t
come along until 1934. So that is kind of a defining
factor in the context of why the Library of Congress is so unique. Along the way, we have become
the largest library in the world, with more than 162 million items. What you see on the screen is the Library
of Congress building that opened in 1897. What a lot of people don’t realize is that
we started life in the United States Capital, and I’m going to take you through
some of the features of that life in the capital before we get to the national
library role, which was consolidated in 1897 when this beautiful building you see before
you, which was our Europe Europe, and did, really established the library’s national role. We started, as I’ve already
mentioned, in 1800 when John Adams, President John Adams signed a bill appropriating
$5000 for the books for the use of Congress. Previously, the Congresses were
in New York and in Philadelphia, and they had use of the New York Society
Library in the Library Company of Philadelphia. But when a brand-new capital was built with
the compromise between Jefferson and Hamilton, Congress had to cough up the
money for its own library. And we started as a small research
library for the Congress, and again, we were located in the United
States capital all the way until that beautiful Jefferson
Building that I just showed you opened. But we had a lot of trouble
in the Capital Building. You see illustrated, problem number one,
which was — and this happened in 1814. It actually, as the war of 1812
progressed, the Americans invaded York, which was the British capital
now in Canada, Toronto, and burned their capital
and burned their library. So when the British got to Washington DC
in 1814, the capital, and retaliation, was very much on their mind, and
indeed, the small Library of Congress, of around just a few hundred volumes in the
north end of the Capital, was destroyed. This was a drawing from Harper’s
New Monthly magazine, depict in the popular notion
which, in fact, was true. That the invaders use the Library of Congress
as kindle, if you will, for the fire. However, to the rescue comes Thomas Jefferson. Now Jefferson, as you know, with the president
of the United States between 1802 to 1809. A book lover, really had in Monticello
a marvelous, comprehensive library that he had built, and he actually nourished the
Library of Congress when it was in the Capital. One of the provisions in the early laws gave
the right to appoint the Librarian of Congress, a legislative officer, not to Congress,
but to the President of the United States. This was a compromise in
1802, but it was the Senate to thought the president should do the
appointing, and that is what happened. So Jefferson was actually able to
appoint the first two librarians of Congress, but they weren’t full time. They were actually also clerks
at the House of Representatives. But the point of the slide is that Jefferson was
disturbed when, of course, he knew what happened in Washington, and he offered to sell
his comprehensive personal library, which covered many different
subjects, many different languages, to Congress for a price that was fair. He set the offer to a bookseller, who
talked to Congress, and the agreement was that for roughly 6400 volumes,
6487, were sold to Congress for roughly $25,000, which
was around $4 a volume. But the real point was that
this was a new kind of library. It covered all kinds of subjects. It covered as much as Jefferson — it was
the basis for his widespread knowledge, because his knowledge came from his books. He was a book user. He wanted and used books on all subjects. So his library included books in
other languages, including music. It included more geography
than was in the library before. It had cooking, and his real point
was on the bottom of the screen, a quote in the letter he sent to the bookseller. “There is, in fact, no subject to which a member
of Congress may not have occasion to refer.” Now that’s flattering to Congress, of course,
but also, in a real sense it was true. And what he was saying is from this
new city capital on the east — tiny town, actually on the East
Coast, if you have ambitions to govern what will someday
be a much larger country. And of course, Jefferson accounted for much
of that, that you cannot limit yourselves to legislative books, history books, and
law books, which were the three subjects in the previous Library of Congress. Secondly, he said and noted, and some of his
defenders of his rather controversial measure in the end, we only purchased this library by
a vote of 10 in the House of Representatives, but he and his backers pointed
out that eventually, this would be a good basis
for a national library. The idea they are being that if
Congress needed a comprehensive library, so did the American people. They needed the knowledge in books, which
in a sense, were the Internet of the day, as much is Congress, and there was a
link between the people and their ability to be well-informed and boat members of Congress
in and out, and printed knowledge at that time. So he had a two-fold idea, which was both
a library for Congress, and secondly, and will someday, perhaps, a
library for people, for the nation. But therein lies the basis of the Library
of Congress being a public institution and a public library, even
though that isn’t in our name. We are also, as I’ve said
earlier, a national library. Nor is that in our name. So this is a little bit of the mystery of
the Library of Congress and what it is. Our name doesn’t describe the
complexity of the institution. In the capital, though, we
continue to have a tough time. First of all, I’ll say a word
about the library committee. The initial legislation said that the Librarian
of Congress really didn’t have a lot of power. The power was in the joint
committee on the library, which was the very first joint
committee in the Congress. It was really created/mentioned
in the initial 1800 legislation. And there were a number of bookish, scholarly
congressman, who were interested in the library and served on the library committee, but they
had full power, and the one congressman — and let me go back for just a second. The Jefferson library did
arrive in 1815, and it was used. The Library of Congress moved back to
the Capital in 1818 and got started under the head of the joint committee. But the man who dominated that committee’s
name was Senator Pierce from Maryland, in the mid-years of the 19th century, from 1846
until 1862, Senator Pierce, who felt the Library of Congress should not be a national
library, it should be a legislative library, dominated the Library of Congress. So that national role lay
dormant until after the Civil War. But, on December 24th, there was an accidental
fire in the capital, and as you can see from the slide, it destroyed not only
the accumulated books of roughly 55,000, but it also destroyed 2/3 of Jefferson’s
library, and this was a tough blow. But I must say Congress,
in spite of Senator Pierce, who actually supported replacing the volumes, without focusing on going much beyond replacing
them, was supportive of this, and Congress voted to say, yes, we want to continue to
have the Library of Congress here, and we will vote money; and
furthermore, this time, we will vote money for a fireproof library. And what you see before you is the new Library
of Congress room that opened on August 23rd, and it was across the front of the capital. You can’t tell from this picture, but that
meant it was a place where the public could go to get a better view of the Capital. So we’re already starting to mix the
audiences for the Library of Congress. We’ve got Congress, of course, and
we’ve now started, because the Library of Congress was the first library,
it was a government library, the first one that covered the whole government, and we also started letting other executive
agencies use the Library of Congress. The public came into the mix here
through this beautiful new room, which became a tourist place, and the
library started to grow one more time. This is the man who really
is the post-Civil War — he was assistant librarian during the Civil War. He came to Library of Congress in 1861, and
he became librarian in 1864 and was the person who took that Jeffersonian vision, vision number
two, that this could also be a national library, and he skillfully persuaded Congress that
the national library idea was something that should predominate in arguments for
the growth of the Library of Congress, and it was time of members of Congress to
think about their library in a different way. His idea was that we would accumulate Americana,
books about America, and one grant location, which would be the capital for the time
being, and that a way to do that would be to centralize copyright at the
Library of Congress in the same way that the European libraries, which were
very much on his mind, had operated. This was true of both the British Museum
library, started actually a private library from royalty, but nonetheless, took on
the copyright deposit responsibility. And the same was true of
the Bibliothèque Nationale. Another reason that Spofford thought this
would be important was that back in the 1840s, before he came to the Library of
Congress, Congress had experimented with sharing copyright deposits
with the new Smithsonian, which was opened in 1846,
and the Library of Congress. The initial copyright system in the
United States used federal offices and did not involve libraries. Spofford’s idea was as the Library of Congress
moved towards becoming a copyright agency, he wanted to ask for two copies. One is a record copy, and back in 1846, when
there was a brief experiment, both Smithsonian and the Library of Congress got
a copy to keep the registrations. In other words, in return for copyright
protection, that copy was preserved. That went away in 1859. When Spofford came back, his idea is to go
for centralized copyright but with two copies. One was for deposit. It would be kept by the library. The second one would be the registration
copy, and it’s this idea that really — the centralization of copyright,
that did provide the basis for the Americana collections in 1870. Along the way, Spofford was
also a good politician. And he worked with members of Congress to, first
of all, get himself the job as the library and. He came as assistant librarian
in 1861 from Cincinnati, where he had been a bookstore
owner, if you can believe it. Another literary entrepreneur, and that store
went broke, and he became an editorial writer for the Cincinnati daily commercial, but he
had educated himself and knew about copyright. In those days, he wrote editorials
about copyright. So he was well-prepared once he came to
Washington and joined the staff at the Library of Congress in 1861 as the assistant
librarian to think about this, and in fact, he lobbied to get the position of librarian,
which he did when Lincoln appointed him in 1864. But he lobbied by putting a petition on the
walls of the library in the capital for members of Congress saying, “If you think I’ve
done a good job, please sign here, and I will let the president know.” These were the days before the president’s
appointment of the Librarian of Congress needed to have the confirmation of the Senate. So you needed political support. You needed to show political support, and
Spofford got that through his petition, and he got it from letters from other
members of Congress who supported projects. And he was named the librarian
of Congress in 1865. He immediately got $100,000
to expand the library’s rooms. He was able to fill them in with
the wonderful Americana collection from a man named Peter Force, who
also was the mayor of Washington, if you can believe that, an archivist. But the Force Collection occupied one of
the two new expanded rooms in the capital. And in the second room, he was
able to put, believe it or not, the whole Smithsonian library back when
the idea was the Smithsonian might become a national library. It was scotched by Joseph Henry, the director
of the Smithsonian, and by firing the librarian who was in charge, Henry said, “Some day,
somebody will come to Library of Congress.” And that turned out to be Spofford, and Henry
was so eager to get rid of the Smithsonian idea of the National Library, he
actually loaned, permanent loan, the entire Smithsonian library
to fill Spofford’s second room. The rooms were jammed. Now Spofford had a new problem. He had books everywhere, and he had to start
with Congress in trying to persuade them to have a competition to get the building,
which is the building which we saw when we opened this presentation. But it took a while to get. In time, this drawing, again
from Harper’s weekly, gives you a sense of the
situation in the library. Spofford was actually accused of deliberately
putting books on the floor to persuade Congress to do something about the space problem,
and I think that they may have been right. But he had a problem that had to be solved. Eventually, Congress, in
1886, authorized the building. Work began the foundation right
away, and Congress was getting into the spirit of the national library. Liked it. Two senators were strong supporters,
and Spofford also had three presidents in their State of The Union Addresses mention
the Library of Congress as the national library, and it’s too bad that Congress won’t do their
work and appropriate money for this building. They finally did, and by then, Congress
was really feeling it’s cultural muscles in some ways and fired the architects,
brought in the Army Corps of Engineers to make the building even bigger, and that
was the idea of showing off American culture and writers and workmanship in a building
that out Europed Europe, and there was plenty of money coming to the Corps of Engineers,
enough to hire 50 well-known artists, American sculptors and painters, to decorate
the building, in addition to the workmen who had been laboring since 1888. And finally, the building was
ready on November 1, 1897, and one more part of this would be moving
the materials into the new building. This is a rather remarkable shot. Spofford was out of space in the capital. He really found 16 different rooms throughout
the capital in order to stuff the materials that he needed, but the key was that the
copyright law included more than books in those days, and it does now too. It includes maps, and prints, and
photographs which later morphed into movies. Included music, and you see these piles of
materials brought from storage in the capital and dumped on the floor of the
new building can you can believe, it took a couple of years to sort this out. But it really is multimedia. It’s the basis of the Library of Congress’s
great multimedia collections today, because these items came to
us through the copyright law. Now Spofford had — was one librarian who
really used the Jeffersonian philosophy, that you needed a complete
collection for all kinds of purposes. But Spofford got copyright
and built the building. The second Librarian of Congress
who really moved things ahead, and here we’re hitting the pivotal
people only, man named Herbert Putnam. By the time Putnam was nominated by President
McKinley, Congress had given itself the power to confirm the President’s choice. And Putnam was a also a President Elect
of the American Library Association. So he brought a different perspective. Spofford was an old-fashioned but men who
wanted to get the national library started that didn’t look beyond it being the
great American mass of publications that people would come to to use. Putnam reflected the new thinking of
librarians at the turn-of-the-century, and the idea was that in American
librarianship, one way that you move ahead was through cooperative activities such
as cataloging, and he used a method of centralized cataloging that was possible because of the 3 x 5 card
technology that had developed. And Putnam actually, here he is seen in his
beautiful new office, today’s ceremonial office, but we call the Jefferson building. But he decided to not only use catalog
cards, but to print cataloging information on those cards and then sell them at
cost to libraries and other institutions around the world, which made the Library of
Congress in the first half of the 40 years in which Putnam was librarian, it turned us into
a bibliographic center and a great help not just to libraries but to researchers, who in the era of union catalogs could start locating
collections all over the country, and eventually, all over the world. Putnam also thought that Spofford hadn’t quite
gotten far enough in building collections, and that we should start, we the Library of
Congress, should go international, and in 1905, Putnam started sending Library of
Congress employees to other countries to investigate collections, and the
first one, really, that was Russia. He knew of a collection in Russia, and he
sent a library of Congress person over there to investigate accident he, we ended up purchasing a huge Russian private
library called the Yudin Collection, which became the basis of the Library
of Congress’s Russian collection. He soon did the same for China. He did the same for other countries in Europe, and our international collections
were on the way. This was in the Jeffersonian spirit, because
Jefferson himself had collected books in a number of languages
and on a number of subjects, and this helped the Library of Congress grow. And just to give you a sense of what I’m talking
about size, when the Library of Congress moved into its new building, it had 108 employees. Actually, when Spofford started back
in 1861, it had seven employees. And so it skipped from seven to by the time the
move into the Jefferson new building was made in 1897, it had 42, but half of them
were dealing with copyright registration. So Congress took a look, and they
gave the library 108 employees in 1897 in the new building. Putnam added about 200 to that quickly. But by the time he retired, or stepped
aside to become Librarian Emeritus in 1939, the Library of Congress had 1000 employees,
and we indeed, the collections had grown to become the largest library in the world,
which happened in the 1930s, and Putnam pointed out in his annual report that we had
surpassed the Bibliothèque Nationale and the British Library, but
it wasn’t a matter of numbers. It really was the depth and the variety
of things required the Library of Congress to also build its own classification
system, which lasts until today. So suddenly, you have a library that’s
serving Congress, libraries open to scholars, and always open to the American public. What we hadn’t quite developed
was the educational role, which we are participating in today. We welcome tourists. This is in the tourist hall in the main
building of the Library of Congress. This actually, this narrow way, which you
can’t see very well is that Kenyon Cox, the well-known painter of the time. The prints are on display, came
from the Smithsonian deposit, part of what we didn’t give back,
which was also a period of negotiations for part the collections we had
accumulated from other places. But we loved having the tourists. I look at that and I see the light
streaming in, and it makes me think of the preservation function of the Library of
Congress, which hadn’t really been developed. This is a photo, I mentioned the card service, of how the cards were stored
in one of the rooms. And you can see three stories of 3 x
5 cards, and they were filling orders from around the country in the 30s and the 40s. This was the bibliographic center
function, which was waiting to be automated, but certainly had not been in those years. And it was a major part of what library did. Another important role in this period,
and there’s Putnam on the far left, is we were the custodian of the Declaration
of Independence and the Constitution. There was no National Archives yet. Putnam what down in 1921 to the State
Department and filled out his forms and managed to persuade President Harding to transfer the
custody of the Declaration and The Constitution to the Library of Congress, with the idea
that they would be on permanent display. What you see there is President
Coolidge and Putnam and members of Congress dedicating the shrine in the
Great Hall of the Library of Congress open to the public, where people could
come and look at those two documents. And they were with us until — well,
they were sent during World War I for safekeeping the Fort Knox, along with
some other treasures, and then finally, were returned to the National
Archives after the war. They had come back from the war. Putnam was named Librarian Emeritus in 1939. There is Archibald McLeish, who was librarian
of Congress from 1939 to ’44 in the center, examining the return to Declaration
of Independence. But it hadn’t yet been returned
to the national archives. It finally got there in 1952. This is yet another role. We were the home of the Presidential
Papers until the FDR library opened and President Truman, of course,
actively promoted that project. Actually, I remember reading
about him signing the legislation so we could microfilm the presidential papers. So we have all the official papers for all the
presidents up to Roosevelt with the exception of the Adamses, and the Adamses
have their own library, which is not to say we don’t have Adamses’
papers, but we don’t have the official ones. Finally, this is the other
role I wanted to mention. We really got a lot of education money in the
60s and 70s, and it was the 1965 Impact Program with money from education to extend what
Putnam had started by giving the Library of Congress overseas offices to acquire
materials in different countries, not only for us, but also for research
libraries, starting with public law 480 in 1958, but then and 65, it got even more
dramatic, and we ended up opening up to 14 offices for a certain period. We are now down to six. But this has always given me a kick
to see a man and a coat and tie, as a Library of Congress government
representative, going through East Africa, gathering up materials to send
back to the Library of Congress. We’re closing with some color pictures of the
Great Hall, which is in the Jefferson Building, and it gives you a sense of the wonderful
mixture, the grandeur, really of mixing the art, the sculpture work, the architecture with
thematic classical themes that are universal and that are showing off, which you can’t
see very well, the names of writers, both classical writers and poets,
and American writers and poets. So the building, in some ways, is really
a symbol of American cultural nationalism. We’re showing other cultures, but we
are also making certain people realize that we are the up-and-coming people
for this, and that we are able to celebrate our own happenings and our own
figures in different fields of knowledge. This building also, in the iconography,
is parallel to Jefferson’s idea of comprehensiveness of knowledge, because
each hall has — this one we’re looking across, but you can’t tell, it is a hall of literature. Up above, the picture is taken from the
West side where we’re standing in the Hall of science, but throughout the iconography,
all fields of knowledge are represented, as well as figures that are important. This is Minerva, who if you notice, perhaps, going up the stair case overlooking
the main reading room, you will find this beautiful
Minerva mosaic by Elihu Vedder. Minerva was the Roman goddess of everything,
of war, of knowledge, but here she’s put down her shield and picked up a
rollcall of fields of knowledge, which she is defending, in
which she is interested. And just for safety’s sake, in addition to
listing the different fields of knowledge that are in embedded in the hallways
and windows of this beautiful building, Vedder added the names of a few
congressional committees, just to make certain that Congress realized that
they had not been forgotten in this great movement towards
the national institution. Our legislative reference
service, our services to Congress, have grown along with the National
Library parts of the library. And finally, this is the inner dome of the
main reading room, and it’s a wonderful mural by Edwin Blashfield, and this is
interesting because for the first time, not for the very first time, but one of the
first times certainly in a public building, and this is a wonderful public building, one of
the first buildings to be electrified, actually, and to be built to handle electricity, which
is why you see all of those different bulbs when we looked at the other pictures. But here, there is a depiction of other cultures
and America, and it’s a little hard to tell, but there are different civilizations which
are depicted, and by each civilization, there is the field of knowledge,
which is part — the artist felt was typical
of what was being shown. For example, there’s — the upside-down center
is Egypt, and Egypt and bodies written records, and that underneath is given
as Egypt’s contribution. And going around quickly, today is religion. Greece is philosophy. Islam is physics, which is real interesting
for a building that opened in 1897. As you come around, Italy is fine arts. Germany is printing. Spain is discovery. England is literature, and the artist actually
depicted Ellen Terry, a British actress, who is holding, and this is typical
of each of the paintings, Shakespeare. A volume of Shakespeare turned
to Midsummer Night’s Dream. But finally, France is emancipation. Then up next to Egypt, you
see upside down here America. And America is depicted by an engineer
sitting on a little dynamo engine, and in purple, it says the field is science. That America is now the leader. This in some way says, “Thank you world. We appreciate these contributions,
but we’ll take it from here, and we’re going to do this in science.” And of course, there is a lot of truth in that. So that is the — but what’s interesting
is this building, again, opened in 1897, and America was starting to heal not only its
cultural oats but it’s imperialistic oats, and the war came along, the Spanish-American
war was right on the heels of this depiction. Finally, this is a close-up of what I was
talking about, which is the coming together of America, which is finally number 12, starting
with Egypt you go around counterclockwise, and you can get a look at the
figure for America, which to me, and this is not documented, is a shaved
Abraham Lincoln in the thinker pose. But now you can see the little
part of the little engine that he’s seated on, but not very well. But it really, again, symbolizes technology
and science and the future of America. So what you have thenis a building that in
bodies some of the traits of a unique nature of the organization, which is a library that
covers all subjects, but it’s more than that. It’s a government agency that
had certain government functions. Because it came early in our history, it’s
a historical cradle of different kinds of cultural, not only artifacts now. Even though we’re not the archives, we still
have some artifacts we picked up, but above all, it’s a library that is open and free
for the use of American Congress and American civilization and American citizens. Those are some of the unique features
of the Library of Congress that I wanted to make certain that I could bring
up and that perhaps we could discuss.

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