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Library of Congress

101 Independence Ave SE
Washington, DC 20540


The Library of Congress is the nation's oldest federal cultural institution and serves as the research arm of Congress. It is also the largest library in the world, with nearly 128 million items on approximately 530 miles of bookshelves. The collections include more than 29 million books and other printed materials, 2.7 million recordings, 12 million photographs, 4.8 million maps, and 57 million manuscripts. The Library's mission is to make its resources available and useful to the Congress and the American people and to sustain and preserve a universal collection of knowledge and creativity for future generations. The Library of Congress occupies three buildings on Capitol Hill. The buildings are remarkable but very different public spaces and public works of art. Each is named after a President of the United States who has a strong connection with the creation of Congress’s library. 1) The Thomas Jefferson Building: When the Library of Congress was first established, it was housed in the U.S. Capitol. The first Library of Congress building, opened in 1897, is named for President Thomas Jefferson, who offered his personal collection of books as a replacement after the British burned the Capitol in 1814 and destroyed the Library's collections. Congress agreed in 1815 to purchase Jefferson's eclectic and comprehensive collection, thus greatly expanding the scope of the Library. 2) The John Adams Building: President John Adams signed into law on April 24, 1800, an act moving the seat of government to Washington; it contained a provision appropriating $5,000 "for the purchase of such books as may be necessary for the use of Congress...and for fitting up a suitable apartment for containing them." The 1939 John Adams Building honors the second U.S. President. The simple structure of the building was intended as a functional and efficient bookstack "encircled with work spaces." Today, the building's decorative style, which contains elements of "Art Deco" inspired by the Exposition des Arts Dècoratifs held in Paris in 1925, is widely admired. 3) The James Madison Memorial Building: The Library's newest building is a memorial to President James Madison, whose influence on the establishment of the Library of Congress predates the U.S. Constitution. In 1783, as a member of the Continental Congress, Madison became the first sponsor of the idea of a library for Congress by proposing a list of books on the subjects of law, history, politics, and geography that he considered "indispensable" for legislators. This effort preceded by some 17 years the establishment of the Library of Congress. The James Madison Memorial Building was dedicated on April 24, 1980.

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Because the city was built from scratch, Washington's regular town plan is easy to grasp. Centered on Capitol Hill and its governmental monoliths, the District is divided into four quadrants - northeast, northwest, southeast and southwest. Dozens of broad avenues , all named after states, run diagonally across a standard grid of streets , meeting up at monumental traffic circles like Dupont Circle. North-south streets are numbered, east-west ones are lettered. There's no J Street, an intentional slight to early Supreme Court Justice John Jay, or X, Y or Z Street. I Street is often written Eye Street. Be sure to note the relevant two-letter code in any address (NW, NE, SW, SE), which shows its quadrant; 1600 Pennsylvania Ave NW is a long way from 1600 Pennsylvania Ave SE.

Once in the city, stop at the DC Chamber of Commerce Visitor Center , Ronald Reagan Building, 1300 Pennsylvania Ave NW (Mon-Sat 8am-6pm, Sun noon-5pm; tel 202/328-4748), which can help with maps, tours, bookings and citywide information. Look for visitor information desks at the airports and Union Station. The White House Visitor Information Center , 1450 Pennsylvania Ave NW (daily 7.30am-4pm; tel 202/208-1631), supplies free maps and handy guides to museums and attractions; the most useful is the free Washington DC Visitors Guide .

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Popular Attractions
US Capitol Building
Vietnam Veterans Memorial
Thomas Jefferson Memorial
Smithsonian Air-Space Museum
Lincoln Memorial
National Mall
Arlington National Cemetery
Mount Vernon Estate
Washington Monument

Featured Hotels
L'enfant Plaza Hotel
   Walk (.4 mi) to Smithsonian
 • Sofitel Lafayette Sq.
   Bold interiors/unstuffy appeal,
   close to White House
 • The Churchill Hotel
   Historic character, 3 blocks to
   DuPont Circle

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