Tuesday, June 25, 2013

History of Our National Library--and a Surprise Giveaway

If you’re like me, you have fond memories of going to the library. As a child, my mother took me and my older brothers to our local branch a few times a month, and I recall racing my siblings to the shelf that contained our favorite Berenstain Bears books. Another treat was the bookmobile. Oh, the fun times I had perusing library shelves right outside my own front door. As I grew, I was so excited to start school where I could go to the library daily and walk among the stacks with all those wonderful books, each one with a different story to tell.


© J. Uhlarik
Yes, libraries hold a special place in my heart. So when my hubby, son, and I took a trip to Washington, D.C., in 2008, I had to visit the Library of Congress. It wasn’t what I would have expected. I expected to be able to get into the actual library and see the books on the shelves, but without a Library of Congress card, you can’t go into the library proper. But there was a very nice visitor’s center with access to a sampling of Thomas Jefferson’s personal collection. I was surprised to learn that, even with a LOC Library card, patrons aren’t allowed to pull or shelve their own books. Should someone want to look at a book, they put in a request, and a LOC worker pulls the book for them. The book is then sent out on a conveyor belt where the patron can pick it up. The closest I came to seeing all those beloved books housed in our national library was to peer down on the shelves and conveyor belt system from a viewing room above. Oh, to have been able to go inside and experience it for myself…

Italian Renaissance style of architecture
© J. Uhlarik
I understand why they take such precautions. Many of the volumes housed in the Library of Congress are quite old, rare, and fragile. If they allow anyone to walk around and pick through the shelves, some of those books could be lost, stolen, or damaged. So they have put safeguards in place for this national resource.

Do you know the history of the Library of Congress? The library goes back to 1800 when President John Adams established a reference library that would be for Congress’s use only, including books thought to be useful to Congress. The library was housed in the Capitol until August 1814. At this time, the United States of America was in the thick of the War of 1812, and British forces invaded Washington, D.C., and burned the city. Unfortunately, the Library of Congress went up in flames.

Thomas Jefferson's books
© J. Uhlarik
While that was a great loss, the American people benefited from the fire the destroyed the Library of Congress. How can that be? Well, a month after the fire, former President Thomas Jefferson stepped in to resurrect the ruined library. You see, Jefferson had spent 50 years collecting books in all sorts of disciplines and topics. Many of the books were rare and valuable, and he offered the bulk of those volumes to the government to replenish the Library of Congress. It was agreed that the United States government would purchase 6,487 books for a sum of $23,950. Rather than books “useful to Congress,” the new collection included books on the arts, humanities, sciences, and all manner of other topics. So the collection was greatly expanded in both number and subject matter.

Ornate ceilings at the LOC
© J. Uhlarik
The man who served as Librarian from 1864-1897, Ainsworth Rand Spofford, subscribed to Jefferson’s philosophy on diversifying the subject matter and built the Library of Congress into a national institution. In 1870, Spofford even instituted the copyright law which requires authors to submit two copies of their work to the Library of Congress, which resulted in a flood of books, pamphlets, music, and other resources to be included in the collection. The library’s holdings grew so large that a new facility to house them was needed, so in 1873, Congress gave the okay to draw up plans for a new building. It took about 1886 for Congress to agree upon the design and begin building the new structure, which is an Italian Renaissance inspired building with grand sculptures, paintings and murals. It opened to the public in 1897 as the largest, costliest, and safest library building in the world.

It’s your turn. Have you ever visited the Library of Congress? If so, what was your experience like? If not, do you have fond memories of other libraries? Leave a comment including your contact information and you’ll be entered in my drawing for this surprise Brighton item.

As always, thank you for stopping by!




Jennifer Uhlarik discovered the western genre as a pre-teen, when she swiped the only “horse” book she found on her older brother’s bookshelf. A new love was born. Across the next ten years, she devoured Louis L’Amour westerns and fell in love with the genre. In college at the University of Tampa, she began penning her own story of the Old West. Armed with a B.A. in writing, she has won the 2012 CWOW Phoenix Rattler, 2012 ACFW First Impressions, and 2013 FCWC contests, all in the historical category. She is also the winner of the 2013 Central Florida ACFW chapter's "Prompt Response" contest. In addition to writing, she has been a schoolteacher of English, literature, and history, as well as a marketing director. Jennifer is active in American Christian Fiction Writers and lifetime member of the Florida Writers Association. She lives near Tampa, Florida, with her husband, teenaged son, and four fur children.

42 comments:

  1. Very interesting!

    As a child I lived in a very small town and the library was only a block away from home. I'm sure I was there two or three times a week, at least in the summertime.

    pattymh2000(at)yahoo(dot)com

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    1. How fun to have been just a block from the library, Patty! I can only imagine what it would've been like to live so close to our local library. I do have a few memories of walking to the library with my parents, but the walks were far longer than a block, and we crossed several busy roads and took many turns. Not something I could have done without parental supervision at such a young age. LOL

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  2. I remember going to the library when I was young. I love having all of those books available to you for free. I have taken my kids to the library since they were young as well. I would one day love to go to the Library of Congress, I have seen many pictures, read articles and watched some tv shows about it. Thank you for the chance to win the surprise giveaway. griperang at embarqmail dot com

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    1. Thanks for stopping by, Angela! Yes, having access to so many wonderful books for free is such a blessing! Whoever invented libraries did the world a favor! :)

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  3. The only libraries that I have visited have been locally...I even worked in one during my high school days. And I do visit my hometown library all the time :)

    karenk
    kmkuka at yahoo dot com

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    1. I worked in my school library one period a day in high school. As I recall, it was the best period of the day that year. So quiet, and such an awe-inspiring feeling of being surrounded by such knowledge in all those books.

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  4. Love Louis L'Amour's books, libraries, and readin' and writin' Westerns. So there ya go! lol I had no clue that the LOC was behind lock and key with a conveyor belt to ferry out requested books to a selected few. But of course it makes sense.

    I just popped over to the LOC facts page http://www.loc.gov/about/facts.html and read, "The Library of Congress is the largest library in the world, with more than 155.3 million items on approximately 838 miles of bookshelves. The collections include more than 35 million books and other print materials, 3.4 million recordings, 13.6 million photographs, 5.4 million maps, 6.5 million pieces of sheet music and 68 million manuscripts."

    155.3 MILLION items.

    Wow

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    1. Million???? WOW. I cannot even fathom that.

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    2. Hi Pam, I found it really interesting (and a bit disappointing) to realize the LOC was behind lock and key. After watching the National Treasure movies, I had expected it to be much different. (That'll teach me to trust Hollywood!!! LOL) And aren't those some impressive numbers housed within the LOC? Makes me want to go back to D.C., secure a library card, and spend the entire vacation in the library just looking around! (Yes, I'm a nerd. I embrace it! LOL)

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  5. I have never visited the LOC, but would love to! Wow, never knew they had to pick out books and get them by conveyor belt. I always feel so sad when I think of the loss of all the history in those library fires. (especially the Library of Alexandria) I love to just sit in a quiet corner of a library and enjoy a good book.
    Great post!
    Susan P
    farmygirl at hotmail dot com

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    1. Hi Susan, the conveyor belt was quite a shock to me, as well. It was rather interesting to stand in the viewing room and look down on it. There seemed to be quite a lot of books on the belt at the time we were there, so I'm guessing there were plenty of people making use of the library at that time.

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    2. The whole conveyor belt thing seems so odd in a library of historic books and documents!!

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    3. I guess I can see that point, Bethany, although the building itself is full of its modern conveniences and upgrades. And I'm trying to recall for certain, but I think they had those plastic boxes (like they have at airport security checks) where they put they books before they go on the conveyor belt. Not as much of a chance of damage that way, I guess.

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  6. When my children were little, the local library was my sanctuary! I have never visited the LOC unless it was when I was in High School on my sr. trip, but who really pays attention then? :) atouchofheaven2010 at gmail dot com.

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    1. I have to laugh at your comment about your senior trip. Being from Florida, and because my high school was so large, our senior trip was to go to Disney World's Magic Kingdom for "Grad Night." Fun, but nothing like going to the nation's capitol. So I can't really say if I would have paid attention to my senior trip or not--you kind of can't help but pay attention at Disney World. Talk about overstimulation! LOL

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  7. I've never been to the LOC, but you really enjoy seeing it. When I was a child, the county library provided a major part of our entertainment. We'd go every weekend and get a sack of books. So libraries have been an important part of my life for decades. I still love going to the library. Just being in a room with such a wealth of knowledge does something to me.

    safe[-]LDwrites[at]flash[dot]net

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    1. I can't agree more, Lena! Libraries are special places, and I can't help but feel nostalgic and awestruck when I look at all the books and think of how long each one took to research, write, edit, and publish. It's a phenominal feeling to stand among all that literature and wisdom.

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  8. I've never been to the Library of Congress, but my husband and I just visited Monticello, Thomas Jefferson's home, in Charlottesville, VA. During the house tour, we heard how Jefferson offered his book collection to the government. But he had a secret agenda-- he was in debt! So he sold his books for the money, and that was his main reason to offer them. I was surprised to learn that Jefferson was in debt most of his life, and when he died, his daughter sold most of the things in his house, and later sold Monticello. It was sad, really. (Jefferson should have cut up his credit cards! LOL) Anyway, I guess it all turned out for good since those books are now available to the public (if you have access).

    Donna

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    1. Now that is an interesting twist to the story, Donna. During our visit to D.C., plus my own research into the LOC, I've never heard that fact. I agree--he should have cut up those cards. They'll get you in trouble every time! LOL Thanks for sharing this!

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  9. I love libraries! Never been to the LOC, but our whole family is a frequent visitor of libraries - yes, more than one! My husband and I have both devoured books since we were kids, and our boys now do the same. We are big users of the interlibrary loan system, and very thankful for it.
    I once showed my boys a picture of a massive library in Italy that has 3 stories of books, and their eyes lit up to imagine so many books! Someday it would be great to visit D.C. and visit the Library of Congress.

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    1. Hi Bethany! I actually visit more than one library in my hometown too. Within a 10 minute drive, I can get to two different county library branches, each with different resources. And within a 30 minute drive, I could get to probably 10 branches and 2 different university libraries. So nice to have so many close by! I would LOVE to see the Italian library you mentioned.

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    2. Jennifer, I went to look up the library I mentioned and found I made 2 mistakes! One, it's in Ireland, not Italy (in my defense, they both start with "I"!). And, two, it has 2 levels that you can see in the Gallery. Here is a link to a picture of the Old Library at Trinity College in Dublin: http://travel.nationalgeographic.com/travel/countries/ireland-photos/#/old-library-trinitycollege_6791_600x450.jpg

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    3. Oh. My. GOODNESS! Now THAT is a library, Bethany!!! My heart just about stopped as the picture loaded. What fun it would be to get lost in there for about 3 years, huh??? I've always wanted to go to Ireland, so we might just have to make that a stop on our tour when we finally make that trip! (And no worries about the Italy/Ireland thing--I often confuse M words and names! LOL)

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  10. I've never been to the Library of Congress, but I would love to see it. I love libraries even now. I can walked and search one row and come back later to the same row and find something I missed the first time. Thank you for sharing about the Library of Congress and please enter me in your giveaway.
    Barbara Thompson
    barbmaci61(at)yahoo(dot)com

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    1. Isn't that the fun part of a library, Barbara--the sheer volume of what's there? I don't think I could ever exhaust all the material in our local branch, and it's small in comparison to a lot of local libraries! And you're absolutely right. It's so easy to walk into one small spot of the library, look at each title, and go back just a short while later and see it as if you'd never looked at it before. There's so much, even in smaller libraries.

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  11. I have never visited the LOC but do have found memories as a child going to the library and getting my first library card when I could write my day, I was so excited.

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    1. I don't recall getting my library card, but I do recall getting my son his own card when he was a toddler. And I recall how proud he was when he got old enough to have his own wallet and carry the card in that wallet. Such little things make big impressions!

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  12. Jennifer, what a great subject! I actually have been to the LOC and have a LOC library card. What I've found so helpful about having the card is that even now, I can assess materials online simply by putting in a request. It's how I've done research for my WWII books.

    And the staff there is great--when I got my card, I told one of the curators my love of little known historical facts. He took me to the side because he wanted me to see a document that was housed in the library. I recognized it as the Declaration of Independence but he told me it was a copy made to be hung in one of the many taverns throughout the land to let the citizens know what their congress was doing. The gentleman then pointed to the lower right hand corner where a woman's name was printed. The Congress had sent the document out to the local printer who happened to be a woman. If she'd been caught returning the document to congress before the members had resigned their names, she would have been the only one tried for treason. That was my best library memory!

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    1. Oh, wow, Patty! That must have been a moment, to see the copy of the Declaration of Independence! What a fascinating tidbit! Thank you so much for sharing it. I have to ask--was the library card hard to get? What steps did you have to take? And are you local to the area, or do you only use it online and on special trips to D.C.?

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    2. Jennifer, getting a LOC card is like getting any other library card. You go to the librarian's desk, fill out an application and they type it into their computer. The only difference is they take a picture. I think it took me all of 15 minutes but because of my love for libraries, it was worth the wait.

      And no, I don't live in DC so I use it mainly online. But if I go to DC, I can get into the main library if I want.

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    3. Wish I had known, or thought, to do that while we were there, Patty! Goodness, what a resource to be able to tap into that library system! :) One day, maybe I'll go back and get one.

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  13. I have never been to the library of Congress, I have fond memories of a bookmobile and the friendly folks that drove it around the rural countryside. I got many books each time because they didn't come often. I love to read and now go to libraries regularly.
    thanks for sharing your info on this historical icon.
    Paula O(kyflo130@yahoo.com)

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    1. Hi Paula, I think my memories of the bookmobile are even more fond than those I have of the actual library. It was such a treat to watch that huge vehicle pull up out front and know that I could get new books without leaving my own lot. Such nostalgia in those memories!

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  14. I have visited the Library in DC and saw the tightly sealed and protected US CONSTITUTION, BILL OF RIGHTS, and GETTYSBURG ADDRESS. At least I think that was where I saw these documents!
    Sharon, CA

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    1. Actually, you're thinking of the National Archives. Another fun and interesting place in our Nation's capitol, Sharon! We stood in line for over an hour in the sun just to get in the building, and then probably another 30 or 45 minutes to get into the viewing room to see our nation's founding documents. Quite an awesome experience!

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  15. I have not visited the Library of Congress but would love to! My fondest memory is when I was a little girl and the town library was in the back of a retail store. We lived in the country and it was always special to see all of those books!
    pbclark(at)netins(dot)net

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    1. Interesting that your local library was in the back of a retail store. You could do your shopping and your library run all at once! :)

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  16. I have not been there but I do have fond memories of the library at college...such a quite place and there was a special glass door with more rare books.
    truckredford(at)gmail(dot)com

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    1. College libraries are fun. Surprisingly, I never spent a lot of time in the library when I was a student in college, but have gone back to both my university's library and the local state school nearby and researched a few things in them now that I'm out of school. Funny how that worked out!

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  17. Love the library - have mobility problems & enjoy being able to browse online & reserve books for pick-up, preview books to see if they are books that I want to purchase to keep in my personal library, & find older books that I haven't read.

    bonnieroof60@yahoo.com

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    1. I find I'm doing more browsing online and reserving books myself, Bonnie! While computers and the internet have made finding resources much quicker and simpler, I do have to say, I miss the old card catalogs. Those always intrigued me as a child! LOL

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  18. Thank you all for stopping by today. Paula O, you are my winner. Congratulations!

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