The roles of the library of congress

By Wei Wei

In the world, no library has the influence and the prestige of library of congress. In 1800, when government was moved from New York to the new capital city of Washington DC, the Congress established its Library. According to its mission, the Library is “to acquire, organize, preserve, secure, and sustain for the present and future of the Congress and the nation a comprehensive record of American history and creativity and a universal collection of human knowledge.”This mission holds true today, even as they broaden the ways in which the library fulfills it. More recently, the mission of it has been articulated as follows: “To support the congress in fulfilling tis constitutional duties and to further the progress of knowledge and creativity for the benefit of the American people.” 1

As is a library belongs to the Congress, no doubt, the library’s single most responsibility is to provide the authoritative research, analysis and information to the Congress to help the US Congress to fulfill their duties. The Law library of Congress is a good example. The Congress will get the comprehensive research on international or U.S law and other legal reference services from the Law library of congress. This mission of the library of congress continues to hold today and will always exist first and foremost.

As the biggest collection in the world, the library of congress owned over 145 million physical items including books, movies, audios, maps, and photos. (Library of Congress website) One of them has a significant historic importance that is its collection of around sixty five million manuscript. This collection holds some of the most treasured documents at the library from the presidential paper to original draft of poems. In the world of print materials, the library of congress is famous for being the world’s largest library. Now, the library is on the way to hosting the largest digital collection in the world with more than 700 terabytes of data. The library of congress has been leader in digitizing primary sources. Because of the copyright issues only of two hundred of those can put online for worldwide education, learning and research. The online primary source files number more than 19 million and have greatly expanded access to unique and historically important items and full collection. 2 The library of congress opened their Audio Visual conservation in July 2007 and started to use Flickr to archive their photo documents since 2008. From 2010, they use twitter to save all their public communication. Recently years, they also established environmental monitoring program and tried to build a new storage facilities at Maryland. All those efforts are trying to preserve more physical and digital materials so that the future generation may use, learn from and be inspired by those information. Acquiring, preserving and providing access to a universal collection of knowledge and the record of America’s creativity is the greatest responsibility of the library of congress which is also a huge tough and never ending work. 3


In the nineteenth century, the United States Constitution (Article1, Section 8) empowers Congress to

Promote the progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors…the exclusive Right to their… Writings…

The Copyright Act achieves this goal to protect the authors’ right. The congress placed the library the function of sustain an effective nation copyright system. The library of congress is not isolated, it also need and have the duty to lead and work collaboratively with external communities to advance knowledge and creativity. That seems included all the missions and roles of the library of congress.

Since talking about so many roles, missions, and responsibilities of the library of congress. As the largest library in the world, the library is definitely not neutral, it present of the Congress. In this strike of federal government, the library of congress totally shut down. Also, the library of congress has so many treasured documents such as Shakespeare’s original first draft, the hand-copy of Beethoven’s sketch. But in fact, the public may have to chance to see those face to face in their whole life. Surely, only a tiny part of the future generation could be inspired by those preservations. Moreover, in the last decade, the library of congress really did a great job to digitize most of their physical materials including books, pictures, and maps in large size. Due to the copyright system, only two hundred of them can be visit online. So we couldn’t stop thinking who are their patrons after so many hardship. If citizens could not access those information, it feels like hundreds ponds lighter even under such a pressure of an endless, tedious, complexity, omnifarious work.

  1. Strategic Plan of the Library of Congress: 2011-2016
  2. VOA news 2009-10-09,
  3. A digital strategy for the library of congress (2000), page 146-149
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