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Historical Highlights

The Creation of the House Library

May 08, 1792
The Creation of the House Library Image courtesy of the Architect of the Capitol Located near Statuary Hall, the House Library staff office supported the book collection in the old Hall of the House gallery.
On this date, the House of Representatives empowered the Clerk of the House to purchase and store “the statutes of the several States,” a collection that would eventually grow into the formal House Library. Before the House began compiling documents and resources, Congress relied on the city libraries of the early federal capitals in Philadelphia and New York for support in its legislative duties. This system soon proved inefficient for the growing Congress and on the final day of the first session of the 2nd Congress (1791–1793), the House agreed to effectively create a centralized reference service of its own. The House expanded the nascent library’s collection a few months later in the second session of the 2nd Congress when it asked the Clerk “to purchase maps of the several States, and one of the United States, for the use of the House.” The House Library has operated continuously since this founding, serving as a depository for all documents originated by the House of Representatives. The House Library collection expanded rapidly in middle of the 19th century; in 1826, for instance, the House adopted a motion stating “that the Clerk of this House be directed to retain in the library of his office, for the use of the members . . . two copies of all the books and printed documents allotted to the said office.” As the number of resources in the library grew, so too did the need for space. In March 1903, Congress authorized the construction of an office building for the House of Representatives, and the House Library was granted a designated space in the new facility (what is today’s Cannon House Office Building). The House Library remains in the Cannon Building, with additional storage of its print collection located in the Ford, Madison, and Adams Buildings, as well as in Fort Meade in suburban Maryland. The Library of Congress, a separate institution, was established in 1800, and serves a broader public audience.

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