It contains more than 30,000,000 books. It has more than 100,000,000 items from various collections. Are you bilingual? Good, this place has materials written in 460 different languages. It houses invaluable music collections, including some of the first recorded sounds in existance. It has one of the original Gutenberg Bibles.
Yep, the Library of Congress has just about anything you could want to read, watch, or listen to, and thousands of items swell the inventory every day. In fact, a couple of weeks ago, it was announced that the Library of Congress had struck a deal with Twitter, allowing it to keep a digital record of Tweets. Um…yay? It spans four buildings, three of which are dedicated to our second, third, and fourth Presidents.
But in 1851, the Library didn’t have four buildings. It had just one. There were no Tweets. And apparently, that building didn’t have a sprinkler system…or maybe it did, and it hadn’t been tested. Regardless, on December 24, 1851, the Library of Congress caught fire. Before the flames could be extinguished, more than 35,000 books had been destroyed. By today’s standards, that’s a mighty small percentage of the total collection. But 160 years ago, the Library contained just 55,000 books.
What makes the loss more painful to take is that much of Thomas Jefferson’s personal collection was among the charred remains. If you recall, after the Library was burned for the first time (when the British sacked the capital during the War of 1812), Jefferson sold his books to the government to seed the new library.
Today, you can see what’s left of Jefferson’s collection somewhere on the Library of Congress’ 800+ miles of shelves (a few are shown above). And I bet if you look up at the ceiling, you’ll see a bunch of sprinkler heads.
I may be back this evening, but if not, have a safe, wonderful Christmas Eve.