Visiting the Library of Congress

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The Library of Congress is one of the most prestigious institutions in the world, holding an immense collection of books, photographs, films, maps, recordings, and other artifacts. It’s also a great place to visit in Washington, DC. Best of all, it’s free!

Library of Congress facade.

The History of the Library of Congress

The Library of Congress was established in 1800 by an act of Congress when President John Adams signed the legislation to create a library for the US Congress. The initial funding of the library was $5,000.00, about $119,380.95 today.

Hallway inside of the Library of Congress.

The original collection was burned by the British during the War of 1812. Fortunately, then-retired president Thomas Jefferson offered to sell his personal collection of 6,487 books to start the library anew.

In the late 1800s, Ainsworth Rand Spofford advocated for a collection not only for the government but also for the people (meaning you and me). The US Copyright registration and deposit was centralized at the LOC in 1870 which proved to be essential to the growth of the collection.

Construction on the building which houses the library that we see today began in 1873 and was completed in 1897. It was built in the Italian Renaissance style.

The Library Today

All told, there are three buildings in which the library houses its collection: the Thomas Jefferson Building, the John Adams Building (completed 1938), and the James Madison Memorial Building (completed 1981).

Columns inside of the Library of Congress.

In addition to its physical collection, the Library of Congress houses a massive digital library with more than 16 million digitized items. The Library also has a large document and media preservation program, which preserves items for future generations to access.

View of the ceiling inside of the Library of Congress.

The Library of Congress is more than just a repository of knowledge; it provides educational programs and services for people everywhere. It is home to some of the world’s oldest and most important works of literature, art, music, and film. It still serves the US government by providing research services for members of Congress and their staff.

The Library of Congress is located in Washington D.C. and is open to the public for guided tours. The building is also home to several exhibitions, including a permanent exhibit of some of the library’s most precious items.

Artwork inside of a federal building.

Interesting Facts About the Library of Congress

  • The Library of Congress is the largest library in the world with over 173 million items.
  • The Library does not have a copy of every book in the world.
  • It is America’s oldest cultural institution and one of Washington DC’s premier attractions.
  • The library has the largest collection of maps in the world. It has over 5.5 million maps, 80,000 atlases, 6,000 reference works, over 500 globes and globe gores, and 3,000 raised relief models.

Special Collections

The Library of Congress holds a wealth of historical documents, photographs, maps, and other artifacts in its special collections. These rare materials provide researchers with an unparalleled opportunity to explore the history of the United States and make invaluable contributions to our collective understanding of the past.

The Gutenberg Bible.
The Gutenberg Bible (1 of 48 copies in existence)

Visiting the Library of Congress

People can visit the Thomas Jefferson Building of the Library of Congress year-round. The last entry to the library is at 4:30 pm. The library is closed Sundays, Mondays, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Day.

Free timed entry passes are required. According to the library’s website, “a limited number of same-day passes are made available each open day at 9:00 am EST. An individual can reserve up to (20) timed-entry passes for their visit.”

View of the stained glass ceiling.

Firearms are prohibited and personal items are subject to being searched. Visitors can check their backpacks, bags, coats, strollers, and other personal items free of charge.

It will take approximately 1.5 hours to take a self-guided tour of the library. Be prepared to walk approximately ½ mile.

NOTE – The library is typically busiest between 10:00 am and noon. Consider visiting after lunch.

Questions Answered

Can you check out books? No, you cannot check out books from the Library of Congress. However, guests ages 16 and older can use the library’s Reading Rooms to access its collections. Patrons are required to have a reader card with a photo on it. If you are interested in conducting research at the library, be sure to read the requirements before you go.

Can anyone visit the Library of Congress? Yes, anyone is welcome to visit the Library of Congress. Visitors must obtain a free-timed entry pass before entering the building.

Can you take pictures inside the library? Yes, visitors are allowed to take still photographs without flash or tripods in the Great Hall and other public areas of the library. However, photography is not allowed in the library’s reading room.

The reading room inside of the Library of Congress.


The library is open Tuesday – Friday from 10:00 am until 5:00 pm.

The front of the Library of Congress.


The Thomas Jefferson Building is located at 101 Independence Ave SE, Washington, DC 20543. The entrance (and exit) to the library is at First Street SE between Independence Ave and East Capitol Street. It’s a quick 15-minute walk from the US Botanic Garden.

The closest public parking lot is located at Union Station. Limited two-hour zones and metered parking are available on the streets by the library.

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