Real National Treasure

Sep. 16, 2010
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The popular rumor is false: the Library of Congress doesn’t actually keep a copy of every book published in the U.S. Even so, it houses millions of books, maps, photographs and other artifacts in one of the largest knowledge archives in the world. Houdini’s scrapbook? The Library of Congress has it.

The History Channel documentary “The Real National Treasure” (out on DVD) offers a quick tour of the Library with flashy visuals and too-fast editing. Bibliophiles would rather linger longer over the miles of aisles of leather-bound treasures, including Thomas Jefferson’s 6000-book personal library—the seed from which the collection grew. Among Jefferson’s books was an English translation of the Koran along with tomes on most every subject known in his lifetime.

The Library also administers a film archive in Virginia where the nitrate negatives of thousands of movies are stored, and another temperature-controlled facility in Maryland. At the center of the Library’s main complex on Capitol Hill is the Jefferson Building, a marbled Byzantine basilica of knowledge adorned with murals, bas-reliefs and torch-bearing statues representing the human imagination.


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