The Library of Congress claims to be the largest library in the world. Its "collections are universal, not limited by subject, format, or national boundary, and include research materials from all parts of the world and in more than 450 languages. Two-thirds of the books it acquires each year are in languages other than English.". The Library of Congress moved to Washington in 1800, after sitting for eleven years in the temporary national capitals of New York and Philadelphia. John J. Beckley, who became the first Librarian of Congress, was paid two dollars per day and was required to also serve as the Clerk of the House of Representatives.
The small Congressional Library was housed in the United States Capitol for most of the 19th century until the early 1890s. Most of the original collection had been destroyed by the British in 1814, during the War of 1812. To restore its collection in 1815, the library bought from former president Thomas Jefferson his entire personal collection of 6,487 books.
After a period of slow growth, another fire struck the Library in its Capitol chambers in 1851, again destroying a large amount of the collection, including many of Jefferson's books. After the American Civil War, the Library of Congress grew rapidly in both size and importance, which sparked a campaign to purchase replacement copies for volumes that had been burned from other sources, collections and libraries (which had started to appear throughout the burgeoning United States).
The Library received the right of transference of all copyrighted works to have two copies deposited of books, maps, illustrations and diagrams printed in the United States. It also began to build its collections of British and other European works and then of works published throughout the English-speaking world. This development culminated in the construction between 1888 and 1894 of a separate, extensive library building across the street from the Capitol, in the Beaux Arts style with fine decorations, murals, paintings, marble halls, columns and steps, carved hardwoods and a stained glass dome. It included several stories built underground of steel and cast iron stacks.
The Library's primary mission of researching inquiries made by members of Congress is carried out through the Congressional Research Service, traces its origin to 1914, and was first permanently authorized (as the Legislative Reference Service) with the Legislative Reorganization Act of 1946. Although the Library is open to the public, only high-ranking government officials may check out books and materials (except through Inter-Library Loan, which is available to the public). The Library promotes literacy and American literature through projects such as the American Folklife Center, American Memory, Center for the Book, and Poet Laureate.