Library of Congress

My options for things to post today were pretty much Administrative Professionals Day (which I wholeheartedly support being on and knowing how vital they are in an office) or the International Mariachi Conference in Tucson, which I was only vaguely interested in. But then I stumbled upon this little gem. The Library of Congress was established on this date in 1800 by Congress, which is basically the National Library for the entire US. It was initially given a budget of $5000 and housed in the new Capitol Building until it had to be moved in 1814, when, according to the Library of Congress’s webpage,

“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.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. 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.”

The library (Thomas Jefferson Building – exterior shot above) was rebuilt starting in 1886, due to the influx of books after the copyright law, and opened in 1897. “The unparalled current collection of more than 155 million items includes more than 35 million cataloged books and other print materials in 460 languages; more than 68 million manuscripts; the largest rare book collection in North America; and the world’s largest collection of legal materials, films, maps, sheet music and sound recordings.” The John Adams Building was the second construction of the Library of Congress and was opened in 1938, with the third ediface, the James Madison Memorial Building opening in 1980.

Main Reading Room, Thomas Jefferson Building – Library of Congress

Main Reading Room - Thomas Jefferson Building - LOC

There have been 13 Librarians of Congress since 1800, the current one, Dr. James Hadley Billington, starting in Sept 1987. For more information on him, check out his informational page. The Library of Congress sponsors several awards including the Poet Laureate of the US (my fav was Robert Pinsky, who did an excellent translation of Dante’s Inferno), the Gershwin Prize for Popular Song, the National Book Festival Creative Achievement Award, and the National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature (the current one is author Walter Dean Myers, the past two being Jon Scieszka and Katherine Paterson).

This webpage features the Inscriptions and Quotations in the 3 building of the Library of Congress. For the Bicentennial celebrations in 2000, they had an exhibition on The Wizard of Oz: An American Fairy Tale. Two of the current exhibits going at the Library of Congress include this one on The Gibson Girls, and this one on Danny Kaye (one of my favorite actor/comedians) and his wife/manager/songwriter Sylvia Fine. I have never been in the reading rooms of the Library of Congress, though I have attended the viewing of a couple silent movies with orchestra, at one of the buildings, when I was in high school.

Today’s poem is taken from a mural (entitled Emerson’s Uriel) done in the Poetry Gallery, featured in lunettes done on the south gallery of the Jefferson Building.


by: Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882)

It fell in the ancient periods
Which the brooding soul surveys,
Or ever the wild Time coined itself
Into calendar months and days.
This was the lapse of Uriel,
Which in Paradise befell.
Once among the Pleiads walking,
Said overheard the young gods talking,
And the treason too long pent
To his ears was evident.
The young deities discussed
Laws of form and metre just,
Orb, quintessence, and sunbeams,
What subsisteth, and what seems.
One, with low tones that decide,
And doubt and reverend use defied,
With a look that solved the sphere,
And stirred the devils everywhere,
Gave his sentiment divine
Against the being of a line:
“Line in nature is not found,
Unit and universe are round;
In vain produced, all rays return,
Evil will bless, and ice will burn.”
As Uriel spoke with piercing eye,
A shudder ran around the sky;
The stern old war-gods shook their heads,
The seraphs frowned from myrtle-beds;
Seemed to the holy festival,
The rash word boded ill to all;
The balance-beam of Fate was bent;
The bonds of good and ill were rent;
Strong Hades could not keep his own,
But all slid to confusion.
A sad self-knowledge withering fell
On the beauty of Uriel.
In heaven once eminent, the god
Withdrew that hour into his cloud,
Whether doomed to long gyration
In the sea of generation,
Or by knowledge grown too bright
To hit the nerve of feebler sight.
Straightway a forgetting wind
Stole over the Celestial kind,
And their lips the secret kept,
If in ashes the fibre-seed slept.
But now and then truth-speaking things
Shamed the angels’ veiling wings,
And, shrilling from the solar course,
Or from fruit of chemic force,
Procession of a soul in matter,
Or the speeding change of water,
Or out of the good of evil born,
Came Uriel’s voice of cherub scorn;
And a blush tinged the upper sky,
And the gods shook, they knew not why.