America’s Greatest Library

GBP £30.00



ISBN: 978-1-911282-13-6

256 Pages

250 x 210 mm (8 ¼ x 10 in)

250 colour

In association with the Library of Congress, Washington, DC

December 2017


A new visual history of the Library of Congress from its creation in 1800 to the present day

“This is a place where you can touch history and imagine your future. I invite you to visit the Library of Congress – through this book…There never has been a library – or an institution – quite like it”—Carla D. Hayden, 14th Librarian of Congress

Also available as an eBook from Amazon Kindle

Read More

The Library of Congress occupies an important crossroads in American life, a place where the nation’s political and literary cultures intersect. Created by Congress in 1800, it has evolved into a multi-faceted cultural institution serving a national and international audience through a wide array of programs, activities, and outreach. It is the major research arm of the US Congress, America’s national library, the nation’s copyright agency, and an important innovator and partner in electronic and digital network development.

In America’s Greatest Library, Library of Congress Historian John Y. Cole highlights the history, personalities, collections, and events that have created and sustained this singular institution. Packed with fascinating stories, compelling images, and little-known nuggets of information, this illustrated history traces the growth of the collections of the world’s largest library through a combination of concise chronological milestones, brief essays, vivid photographs, and illustrations.

The book highlights such important acquisitions and episodes as:

  • The Brady-Handy photographic collection, containing more than 3,000 negatives made by Civil War photographer Mathew B. Brady and his nephew Levin C. Handy
  • The November 1963 late-night search in the stacks— by flashlight—by Lincoln specialists working at the behest of First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy for guidance on appropriate arrangements for an assassinated president
  • The earliest surviving copyrighted motion picture, Thomas Edison’s 1894 Kinetoscopic Record of a Sneeze
  • The 175,000 photographs from the Farm Security Administration archive, including Dorothea Lange’s iconic Migrant Mother
  • The 1944 world premiere of Appalachian Spring, choreographed by Martha Graham with music by Aaron Copland
  • The 303 glass-plate negatives documenting the earliest flights of Orville and Wilbur Wright
  • Rare sacred texts, including the Washington Haggadah, an illuminated Hebrew manuscript, and two fifteenth-century Bibles, the Giant Bible of Mainz and one of only three perfect vellum copies of the Gutenberg Bible
  • A variety of musical instruments and scores, including five stringed instruments made by Antonio Stradivari, the 1,600-item Dayton C. Miller flute collection, and the original score of Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess.

Author biographies

For more than 50 years, beginning in 1966 when he joined its staff as an administrative intern, librarian and historian John Y. Cole has sought to increase public understanding of the key role of the Library of Congress in American government, scholarship, and culture. As the director of the Library’s Center for the Book from its founding in 1977 until 2016, he helped establish the Books & Beyond author series (1996), the Library of Congress National Book Festival (2001), the National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature program (2008), the Library of Congress Young Readers Center (2009), and the Library of Congress Literacy Awards (2013). The author or editor of eight books and dozens of articles about the institution and its history and activities, he was named to a new position as the Library’s first official historian in 2016

Table of Contents

  1. Foreword by Carla D. Hayden
  2. Author’s Note and Acknowledgments by John Y. Cole
  3. Part One: FOR CONGRESS 1800-1897: Introduction “A Suitable Apartment”—The Library’s First Home
  4. Comes the Flood: The Library and Copyright Deposit—The Book Palace of the American People
  5. Part Two: FOR THE NATION, 1897-1959: Introduction: Daniel Murray—A Collector’s Legacy
  6. Of Cards, Catalogs, and Computers
  7. Founding—and Lost—Documents
  8. Part Three: FOR THE WORLD, 1960-2016: Introduction: An Essential Resource in a Time of Grief
  9. Knowledge Will Forever Govern Ignorance—The Madison Memorial
  10. The First Presidential Library
  11. The Library’s Pop Persona
  12. APPENDIX:The Librarians of Congress
  13. Further Reading
  14. Donor
  15. Photo Credits
  16. Index