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Library of Congress: Thomas Jefferson Building

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The Library of Congress: Thomas Jefferson Building The United States Library of Congress has become a symbol of American democracy and faith in the power of learning. The Library of Congress consists of three buildings: the Thomas Jefferson, the John Adams, and the James Madison wings. The most famous of the three is the Thomas Jefferson building which, through its architecture both inside and out, has become a monument to civilization, culture, and American achievement. The Library of Congress was begun on April 24, 1800 and was first housed in the United States Capitol building, but in 1814 the British invaded and burned the Capitol destroying the 3000-book library. Being a great advocate of the library, Thomas Jefferson offered to sell his own personal collection of 6487 books, one of the largest in the nation, for $23,950, expanding the bounds of the library. Because of the Library’s growing collections, it out-grew its place in the Capitol and created the need for new architectural project: the Thomas Jefferson Building. Ainsworth Rand Spofford proposed the idea of a separate building in 1871, and it was approved and authorized in 1886 by Congress for $6 million. Spofford’s concept for the new building was based on other national libraries in Europe, especially the British Museum Library. The original architects, John L. Smithmeyer and Paul J. Pelz, believed that “the National Library…should be more a museum of literature, science, and art, than strictly taken as a collection of books.” (Bisbort pg. 13-18) John L. Smithmeyer and Paul J. Pelz were the original architects of the structure and were given credit for their Italian Renaissance design, but early were dismissed and replaced by Edward Pearce Casey (Bisbort pg.350). Casey was born in Maine and graduated from Colombia University where he received degrees of C.E. and architecture. Casey also helped design the New York City Hall, Taft Bridge, and the Ulysses S. Grant Memorial. For the Thomas Jefferson building, Casey took over all of the interior work of the structure trying to orchestrate the structure’s monumental art and architectural decorations (Herringshaw pg. 575). The Thomas Jefferson building was completed in 1897. The structure was designed in the Italian Renaissance style. The exterior of the building is decorated with paired Corinthian columns and the main focal point, the Neptune Fountain. The fountain contains a twelve-foot tall statue of Neptune and also nymphs, monsters, frogs, and Florida sea turtles. Then going up the stairs to the building, the façade consists of a triple-arched porch with three 14-foot-tall bronze doors representing Tradition, the Art of Printing, and Writing. Above the arched porch, there are nine “portico busts” which represent significant figures of learning. On top of the building a low copper dome was built at the library’s center and the pinnacle of the dome the “Flame of Knowledge” is placed with gold flames (Bisbort pg. 39-41). The interior of the building is magnificent, consisting of many reading rooms, corridors, galleries, and divisions. The two main and most important rooms of the building are the Great Hall and the Main Reading Room. The Great Hall has white, red, and brown marbled floors with a brass-inlaid sun serving as a center of a compass and zodiac signs circling the room’s floor. The walls and ceilings are all decorated by murals on the themes of government and inscribed with names of Americans involved with different fields of knowledge. On both sides of the room there are staircases leading to the second floor where Thomas Jefferson and George Washington are commemorate. The staircases are made of Italian marble and consist a sculpture of two women each holding a torch of knowledge and many marble cherubs that represent different occupations decorate them (Bisbort pg. 41- 43). The Main Reading Room is the library’s principle reading room and the entrance to the Library’s research collections. It contains 70,000 reference books, 226 desks and 700 study shelves. The room consists of a dome ceiling in which in the dome’s lantern there is an image of a women representing Human of Understanding lifting the veil of ignorance from her eyes. The rime of the dome is decorated with scenes about the Evolution of Civilizations. Going around the room there are eight plaster sculptures representing different departments of knowledge and beside the sculptures there are bronze figures of European men who have made significant contributions to that department of knowledge (Bisbort pg. 49).
The building’s purpose was to house the United State’s national library but also showcase the art and culture of the young and growing republic. Even though the library adds 13,000 pieces a day, the structure speaks for its self of how great it is. When entering the building, the visitor become filled with awe and become absorbed into the space because of all the interior and exterior decoration. There is not one inch in the building that is not fully elaborate. When walking into the space, the person feels small compared to the space because of the high ceilings and ornamentation. The building accomplishes its mission of being a national monument. When entering the library, the viewer feels more as if they are in a monument that represents our government but not a library, but once going into the space and looking at the murals and sculptures of the torches and famous intellects, there is a sense of knowledge and intelligence. The structure was a way of showing that even though the United States was still young and growing that it was still able to create such a magnificent and grand building as the Europeans.

Works Cited
Bisbort, Alan, and Linda Barrett Osborne. The Nation's Library: The Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. London: Scala, 2000. Print.
Herringshaw, Thomas William. National Library of American Biography ...Chicago: American Pub. Assoc., 1914. Print.

Exterior of the Thomas Jefferson Building.

Dome of the Main Reading Room

The Main Reading Room

The Great Hall…...

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