America's Library


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The Story of the Library of Congress, 1800-2000

James Conaway; Introduction by Edmund Morris

View Inside Format: Cloth
Price: $55.00
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The Library of Congress, considered by many to be the greatest library on earth, holds over 110 million items—books in 450 languages, irreplaceable national documents, priceless art works, and objects of cultural fascination. From a modest collection of 740 books purchased by the Congress in 1800, the Library has grown to house hundreds of miles of bookshelves. Laid end to end, they would stretch from Washington, D.C., to Chicago. This book tells the continuously interesting story of the first two hundred years of the Library of Congress. It is a vast history, filled with an immense cast of characters ranging from presidents, poets, journalists, and congressmen to collectors, artists, curators, and eccentrics.

James Conaway centers this history around the thirteen men who have been appointed by presidents to lead the Library of Congress. The author investigates how the Librarians’ experiences and contributions, as well as the Library’s collections, have reflected political and intellectual developments in the United States. Each Librarian confronted great challenges: the entire Library collection was lost when the British burned the Capitol in 1814; in the 1940s, a backlog of one and a half million objects waited to be catalogued; the gigantic task of replacing the card catalogue with a computerized system was undertaken in the 1980s. Yet each Librarian also enjoyed the excitement of acquiring unique treasures—from Walt Whitman’s walking stick to the papers of the Wright brothers, from the Civil War photographs of Mathew Brady to the archives of Leonard Bernstein. This lively account of the Library of Congress and those who guided its progress over two centuries is the history of an American institution that today is truly a library to the world, serving readers and researchers everywhere.

Copublished with the Library of Congress

James Conaway is the author of eight books. He is the former Washington editor of Harper’s and has written for many publications including Civilization, The Atlantic Monthly, The New York Times Magazine, National Geographic, and Preservation.

A selection of the History Book Club

America’s Library is organized around the careers of the thirteen librarians of Congress in the contexts of the administrations under which they served. It is a thoroughly satisfying account, both as to the continuity of the enterprise and the differences in the librarians that each period brought forth. The book is a handsome one, replete with illustrations, for which detailed and informative captions are provided. The layout is both visually attractive and expressive of important differentiations.”—Robert W. Miles, Sewanee Review

“[M]agnificent. . . . An absolute must.”—Lida Dicaire, Landscape Architecture

“Conaway investigates the Library’s history from the vantage point of the 13 Librarians of Congress, to illustrate how their experiences and contributions have reflected political and intellectual developments in the U.S. . . . This is an engrossing and comprehensive read, as much a history of the people who made the Library of Congress what it is today—a library to the world—as it is a rich chronicle of the magnificent institution.”—Publishers Weekly

“Richly supplemented with photographs, this history reaches out to touch all who love libraries, not just professional scholars and librarians. Conaway’s prose flows smoothly, avoiding jargon and placing the library’s history in the context of the nation’s development.”—Booklist

“Among the book’s many pleasure is a refreshing freedom from the contemporary vice of Thomas Jefferson-bashing. Conway makes clear how important Jefferson was in the early history of the Library of Congress.”—Charles Monaghan, Washington Post Book World

“[A] handsomely designed and illustrated volume [that] recount[s] the institution’s two centuries. . . . From Conaway one picks up all kinds of information.”—Charles Monaghan, Washington Post

“A ‘must’ for any who would understand American book history.”—The Midwest Book Review

America’s Library is the vivid story of the Library of Congress, one of the world’s great intellectual and cultural repositories. . . . This book is useful for reference; research, or browsing, and suitable for the coffee table.”—Choice

“An extremely fascinating account. . . . Beautifully conceived and designed. . . . [It] will be a popular addition to other works on the Library of Congress’s history.”—Plummer Alston Jones, College & Research Libraries

“This well written history follows our country’s history through the lives of the 13 Presidentially appointed Librarians of Congress. Good selection of photos and illustrations. A beautiful book.”—Kay Ikuta, UniversityPress Books for Public and Secondary School Libraries

Selected as an outstanding book by University Press Books for Public and Secondary School Libraries
ISBN: 9780300083088
Publication Date: May 11, 2000
Publishing Partner: Copublished with the Library of Congress
240 pages, 7 x 10
80 b/w + 72 color illus.