Library of Congress

By Jerilyn WatsonAmerica's library -- the Library of Congress -- is celebrating its two-hundredth birthday this year. The library contains almost one-hundred-twenty million books and other objects. I'm Shirley Griffith.And I'm Sarah Long. The story of this huge national library is our report today on the VOA Special English program, THIS IS AMERICA. Please have a pen and paper ready if you would like to write down the address for the Library's Internet web sites.

(THEME))The Library of Congress is observing two-hundred years of service to the nation this year. The Library's main job is to provide research for Congress. But its twenty-two reading rooms serve all Americans. And its two Internet web sitesserve people around the world.

Almost everything about the Library of Congress is big. More than four-thousand people work there. It has the world's largest collection of maps, films and television programs. It has twenty-two million books. And it has millions of other objects. Things like writing surfaces from four-thousand years ago. Political drawings and beautiful pictures from the eighteenth century. Twentieth Century movies, television shows and CD-ROMs for computers.The Thomas Jefferson building of the Library of Congress stands near the Capitol building, where Congress meets. The Jefferson building has a round top of copper metal, green with age. It looks like an Italian palace of the fifteen-hundreds. This building and two newer buildings nearby hold the national library. The Jefferson building is the heart of the library.

It seems right that the heart of the library is named "the Jefferson building." Thomas Jefferson was the third president of the United States. He played an important part in the history of the Library of Congress.That history began in Eighteen-Hundred, when John Adams was serving as America's second president. The library started with eleven boxes of law books. They were kept in one room of the Capitol building.

By Eighteen-Fourteen, the collection had grown to about three-thousand books. However, all the books were destroyed that year during America's war against Britain. British troops invaded Washington and burned the Capitol building.

To help rebuild the library, the next president, Thomas Jefferson, offered his collection of books. Mr. Jefferson had about seven-thousand books in seven languages.Sympathy for the Library may have made Thomas Jefferson willing to sell his books. His own earlier book collection had burned up in a fire at his farm. Also, Jefferson was in debt at the time of the sale. He received about twenty-nine-thousand dollars for his books. Historians say his collection was far better than the one that had been lost when the British burned Washington.

In Eighteen Ninety-Seven, the library moved into its own building, across the street from the Capitol. The building was named after Thomas Jefferson. A second building was opened in Nineteen-Thirty-Nine. It was named after President John Adams. In Nineteen-Eighty, a third building was completed near the first two. It was named after America's fourth President, James Madison.

((MUSIC BRIDGE))The Library of Congress is celebrating its anniversary this year in a number of ways. Last month, it held a big party for the public. Children and their parents met Big Bird of the television program "Sesame Street." Former military chief Colin Powell was among the speakers. Famous singers and bands performed. One visitor said the party was like life in America -- a mix of people and interests.

Two special exhibits at the Library also celebrate its birthday. One is an exhibit about the popular book, "The Wonderful Wizard of Oz," by L. Frank Baum. That book also is observing an anniversary. It is one-hundred years old. The "Oz" book has been produced as a musical show, television program and film.

In Nineteen-Thirty-Nine, a very popular film starred Judy Garland and Ray Bolger. The Library shows parts of "The Wizard of Oz" movie in its exhibit. It also shows objects from the movie. Mr. Bolger's clothes for his part as the Scarecrow are there. So are the red shoes Ms. Garland wore while she performed as Dorothy. Dorothy was the little girl blown by a windstorm into the mysterious Land of Oz.The other current Library of Congress exhibit is about Thomas Jefferson. It contains one-hundred-fifty American historical objects. For example, there is an early version of the Declaration of Independence. That is the document Mr. Jefferson wrote to declare America's separation from England in Seventeen-Seventy-Six. His corrections can be seen on the paper. There is also a map of the eastern state of Virginia, where Mr. Jefferson lived when he was not in Washington.Thomas Jefferson wrote the words, "All men are created equal."Still, a number of objects in the exhibit are linked to the fact that he owned slaves. For example, a letter from a slave cook at his home in Virginia says she was sorry he was sick and could not visit that summer, as he usually did. Another letter in the collection was written by his granddaughter. This letter condemned slavery. The granddaughter wrote that the southern states will not make progress because of slavery. She wrote to Thomas Jefferson that slavery "eats into the heart."For almost two-hundred years, there have been reports that Mr. Jefferson had children by his house slave, Sally Hemings. Recent tests of living Hemings family members show this could be true. However, genetic material from the family members shows only that a male in the Jefferson family was the father of Sally Hemings' children. Defenders of Thomas Jefferson say this means someone else in the Jefferson family could have been the father. The Library exhibition contains the report that apparently started the stories about Thomas Jefferson and his slave. It appears in an Eighteen-Oh-Two publication of a Richmond, Virginia, newspaper.

((MUSIC BRIDGE))The Library of Congress may be old, but it is doing modern things. For example, it has two web sites on the Internet computer system. The American Memory web site shows many objects of American cultural history. Librarian of Congress James Billington says it will have about five-million photographs and documents by the end of the year.

For example, on this web site are copies of a famous speech by Abraham Lincoln, sixteenth President of the United States. President Lincoln made notes and corrections on the copies. The speech honored the dead of the American Civil War in the Eighteen-Sixties. You can reach this Web site at www. loc. gov. Then choose "American Memory."The Library also has a new web site for children and families. It is called "America's Story from America's Library." On this Web site, you can learn about famous Americans like musician Duke Ellington. You can take a trip to an earlier time in American history. You can explore the American states. You can watch a movie, hear a song or play a tune. And you can discover America's most popular sports. This Web site is www. americaslibrary. gov.

((MUSIC BRIDGE))Many people like to find information about the Library of Congress on the Internet. However, other people love to visit the huge main reading room of the Library of Congress in person. It is one of the most beautiful rooms in the country. People need permission to read books in the Library, and they may not remove its books. It is easy to get permission, however. Library of Congress cards are given to anyone seventeen years old or older who can show identification. Thousands of people use the Library's reading rooms every year.

These people probably would agree with Thomas Jefferson, who loved to read. President Jefferson said, "I cannot live without books."

This program was written by Jerilyn Watson. It was produced by Caty Weaver. I'm Shirley Griffith.And I'm Sarah Long. Join us again next week for another report about life in the United States on the VOA Special English program, THIS IS AMERICA.