Morning again, savvy savers! For this weeks Educational Tips post, I wanted to discuss, what in my opinion, is one of the most under-utilized assets in the educational enrichment, homeschooling, and public school curriculums, the Library of Congress! As I am always on the lookout for new, fun, and clever ways to help find educational freebies into my home, which are passed onto my readership, I cannot think of a better tool for knowledge, to all parents and students than this amazing American institution!
Here is a brief history of the Library of Congress. This institution was established by an act of Congress in 1800 when President John Adams signed a bill providing for the transfer of the seat of government, from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, to the new capital city of Washington. The legislation described a reference library for Congress only, containing “such books as may be necessary for the use of Congress – and for putting up a suitable apartment for containing them therein.” Established with $5,000 appropriated by Congress, the original library was housed in the new Capitol until August 1814, when invading British troops set fire to the Capitol Building, burning and pillaging the contents of the small library.
Within a month, retired President Thomas Jefferson offered his personal library as a replacement. Jefferson had spent 50 years accumulating books, “putting by everything which related to America, and indeed whatever was rare and valuable in every science”; his library was considered to be one of the finest in the United States. In offering his collection to Congress, Jefferson anticipated controversy over the nature of his collection, which included books in foreign languages and volumes of philosophy, science, literature, and other topics not normally viewed as part of a legislative library. He wrote, “I do not know that it contains any branch of science which Congress would wish to exclude from their collection; there is, in fact, no subject to which a Member of Congress may not have occasion to refer.” In January 1815, Congress accepted Jefferson’s offer, appropriating $23,950 for his 6,487 books, and the foundation was laid for a great national library.
The Jeffersonian concept of universality, the belief that all subjects are important to the library of the American legislature, is the philosophy and rationale behind the comprehensive collecting policies of today’s Library of Congress; he built his model on the Socrates model for liberal arts.
Ainsworth Rand Spofford, Librarian of Congress from 1864 to 1897, applied Jefferson’s philosophy on a grand scale and built the Library into a national institution. Spofford was responsible for the copyright law of 1870, which required all copyright applicants to send to the Library two copies of their work. This resulted in a flood of books, pamphlets, maps, music, prints, and photographs. Facing a shortage of shelf space at the Capitol, Spofford convinced Congress of the need for a new building, and in 1873 Congress authorized a competition to design plans for the new Library.
In 1886, after many proposals and much controversy, Congress authorized construction of a new Library building in the style of the Italian Renaissance in accordance with a design prepared by Washington architects John L. Smithmeyer and Paul J. Pelz.
The Congressional authorization was successful because of the hard work of two key Senators: Daniel W. Voorhees (Indiana), who served as chairman of the Joint Committee from 1879 to 1881, and Justin S. Morrill (Vermont), chairman of Senate Committee on Buildings and Grounds.
In 1888, General Thomas Lincoln Casey, chief of the Army Corps of Engineers, was placed in charge of construction. His chief assistant was Bernard R. Green, who was intimately involved with the building until his death in 1914. Beginning in 1892, a new architect, Edward Pearce Casey, the son of General Casey, began to supervise the interior work, including sculptural and painted decoration by more than 50 American artists.
When the Library of Congress building opened its doors to the public on November 1, 1897, it became the single largest collection of books, freely open to the public, in the world.
With that said, this leads me back to my original idea, as to how underutilized this national treasure is! Did you know that the entire content of the library has been digitized, and is accessible to all Americans online! As well, there are over 50,000 prepared homeschooling and enrichment worksheets, lesson plans, field trip worksheets, and historical trivia lessons available online? As well, did you know there are over 100,000 hours of video archiving American history, its people, anthropology, and culture?
There are also sections on test prep, form everything from GED training to the GRE! As well, there is continued education seminars for adults, and even science fair project starters, summer reading suggestions and classroom packets, the worlds largest selection of faith-based books, assignments pertaining to the Smithsonian, and everyday there is a new “What Happened in History” games for kids!
Please be sure to look into these lesson plans, books, games, and programs for your children and classrooms! Some areas of interest are the Presentations and Activities page, the Kids and Families page, and the Educational Resources page! These lesson plans and pages are ready-to-go, without charge, and also include online educational assistance, from trained learning professionals, without charge.
Here’s to learning!