How Many Books Are In The Library Of Congress?

What started out as a small library for Congress in 1800 has, like the country itself, grown exponentially over the last 220-plus years. When the United States was in its infancy, Congress relied on libraries in New York City and Philadelphia for any books they might need as they went about the business of creating a brand new nation, according to "History of the Library of Congress, Volume I, 1800-1864."

In 1789, a member of the U.S. House of Representatives, Elbridge Gerry of Massachusetts, got the ball rolling on getting a library for himself and his fellow Congressmen when he proposed creating a committee to look into what they needed to make it happen. By 1802, the library consisted of 243 volumes, mainly dealing with the law, along with encyclopedias and dictionaries. Today, the Library of Congress, housed in five different facilities, boasts more than 51 million books and other printed matter.

There would be more if not for the British

The Library of Congress would have even more books, if not for the British who — while occupying Washington, D.C. during the War of 1812 — set fire to the Capitol building in 1814, which at the time housed the Library of Congress. About 3,000 volumes went up in flames, according to the Library of Congress Blogs. "The Vandals destroyed without remorse this collection of valuable and scarce books, the loss of which is irreparable," U.S. Brigadier General Duncan McArthur said at the time.

It was one of the Founding Fathers and the third U.S. President Thomas Jefferson who came to the rescue of the nation. He agreed to sell his book collection — the most extensive private library in the country containing over 7,000 items — to the nation for the equivalent of about $400,000 today. Jefferson hadn't named the price but stipulated Congress had to buy the entire library, according to "Thomas Jefferson's Library: A Catalog with the Entries in His Own Order."

Continues to grow

Another fire, this one in 1851, burned about 35,000 books, including many from Thomas Jefferson's collection, according to DCist. Still, over the years, the institution has managed to grow into the largest library in the world. Today, the Library of Congress has a total of 173 million items, which — besides the 51 million books and related matter — includes sound recordings, sheet music, and films.

Each year, the library grows by about 2 million items. One reason for this astounding number of additions each year is the U.S. Copyright Office, which has required since 1870 that anyone who wants a copyright has to give the Library of Congress two copies of the work. The government moved the library out of the Capitol building in 1897, and over the years it has grown to include three buildings on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C.; one in Maryland; and another in Virginia.