The Jefferson Library is a national treasure. Considered one of the world’s most beautiful buildings when it opened in 1898, it is just as lovely today. I visited it in June 2013 and took some pictures. Hope you enjoy them.
The Jefferson Library is one
of the three buildings that now make up what is called the Library of
Congress and the story of the books Jefferson sold – not gave – Congress is as interesting as the building itself.
The Library of Congress was established
by Act of Congress in 1800, signed by President John Adams, included in
a bill transferring the government from Philadelphia to Washington, DC,
a new city to be built on a hill — a small hill anyway. It was
described as “such books as may be necessary for the use of Congress –
and for putting up a suitable apartment for containing them therein….”
and it all began with just $5,000 appropriated from the citizens of the
The original collection of
books was housed in the new Capitol until August 1814 when the Brits set
fire to the building and burned and pillaged the Library.
A month later, Thomas
Jefferson offered his collection of books to Congress. But Jefferson
did not donate the books to Congress. He sold them.
In today’s dollars, the
taxpayers in 1815 paid almost $300,000 to buy Jefferson’s books. And
Jefferson went out and bought more, stating, “I cannot live without
books.” Several thousand of his new collection of books were sold at
auction in 1829 to pay off his creditors. Jefferson couldn’t possibly
read all these books so clearly he was a hoarder and the US taxpayers
helped support his habit.
Congress didn’t take very
good care of what the taxpayers bought from Jefferson. A Christmas Eve
fire in 1851 destroyed nearly two-thirds of the 6,487 books the
taxpayers bought from Jefferson.
Ah, well, the fire gave
Congress a reason to buy more books and build a far grander place to
store them. And Congress kept going and building. The Jefferson
Building is now just one of three buildings that make up the Library of
While its original stated
purpose was to serve members of Congress, it is doubtful that
Congressmen or Senators ever spend any time in the stacks at the
Jefferson Library. Historians do, however.
With books going digital, or
available for just pennies delivered to one’s door, one has to wonder
what the future will hold for the “Library of Congress.” Most local
libraries serve the public far better and the Jefferson Library is more
museum than working library. There is no fee to visit it, all libraries
in the nation’s Capitol being “free” to visitors who come from all over
the world. Oddly, there is no donation box set out should anyone want
to freely donate to its upkeep, which is paid for by non-volunteer
contributions, your mandatory tax dollars.
So, the public has paid a
fortune to build it, stock it and maintain it. And if the Jefferson
Library ever burns down, you can bet Congress will confiscate more money
from its citizens to rebuild it.
But I love libraries, especially the little jewell Fallbrook has, and the Jefferson Library is worth visiting. Hope you enjoy this tour.