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Library Fire

The Congressional Library Burns

Today, the Library of Congress celebrates its 217th birthday. On April 24, 1800, President John Adams approved the appropriation of $5,000 for the purchase of “such books as may be necessary for the use of congress.”

On December 24, 1851, the largest fire in the Library’s history destroyed 35,000 books, about two–thirds of the Library’s 55,000 book collection, including two-thirds of Jefferson’s original transfer. Congress in 1852 quickly appropriated $168,700 to replace the lost books, but not for the acquisition of new materials. This marked the start of a conservative period in the Library’s administration by librarian John Silva Meehan and joint committee chairman James A. Pearce, who worked to restrict the Library’s activities.

Congress in 1852 quickly appropriated $168,700 to replace the lost books, but not for the acquisition of new materials. This marked the start of a conservative period in the Library’s administration by librarian John Silva Meehan and joint committee chairman James A. Pearce, who worked to restrict the Library’s activities.

Between 1865 and 1870, Congress appropriated funds for the construction of the Thomas Jefferson Building, placed all copyright registration and deposit activities under the Library’s control, and restored the Library’s international book exchange. The Library also acquired the vast libraries of both the Smithsonian and historian Peter Force, strengthening its scientific and Americana collections significantly. By 1876, the Library of Congress had 300,000 volumes and was tied with the Boston Public Library as the nation’s largest library.

When the Library moved from the Capitol building to its new headquarters in 1897, it had over 840,000 volumes, 40% of which had been acquired through copyright deposit.

The 1851 fire was reported in Frederick Douglass’s newspaper on January 8, 1852. At the time of the fire, the library was still part of the Capitol building.

Burning of the Congressional Library

On Wednesday morning, Dec. 24th (1851), a fire was discovered in the Library rooms of the Capitol at Washington. The alarm was immediately given, and the Fire department, promptly on the spot, used their utmost exertions to arrest the flames, but unhappily failed to do so before the splendid collection of books upon the shelves, was more than half consumed. The morning was an extremely frosty one, and the chill air and the ice-bound water seriously impeded operations. The President, the members of the Cabinet and of Congress , lent every assistance; and by their direction, the roof connecting with the rotunds, was torn away, and the remainder of the building saved. The fire was brought under control about noon. The origin of it is unknown.

The Library occupied three apartments in the main building. The main room was a very large one, ninety-two by thirty-four feet, with a gallery round it. There were six recesses, or alcoves, on either side. The number of volumes upon the shelves was about 55,000; all of them works of the highest value, and many of them wholly irreplaceable.

This item, and others like it, can be found in Accessible Archive’s African American Newspapers Collection. This enormous collection of African American newspapers contains a wealth of information about cultural life and history during the 1800s and is rich with first-hand reports of the major events and issues of the day.
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Plain Truth

Entering World War I: The Plain Truth

America’s entry into World War I came in April 1917, after more than two and a half years of efforts by President Woodrow Wilson to keep the United States out of the war. In 1917, Germany appeared to have the upper hand in Europe when it decided to resume unrestricted submarine warfare against any vessel approaching British waters. This attempt to starve Britain into surrender was balanced against the almost certain knowledge that it would bring the United States into the war.

This all came to a head when it was revealed that Germany made a secret offer to help Mexico regain territories lost in the Mexican–American War in the Zimmermann Telegram. Publication of that message outraged Americans just as German U-boats began sinking American merchant ships in the North Atlantic.

Wilson asked Congress for “a war to end all wars” that would “make the world safe for democracy“, and Congress voted to declare war on Germany on April 6, 1917.

The April 19, 1917 issue of Frank Leslies Weekly had plenty of news and opinion items about our entry into the war. This short piece, The Plain Truth ran on a page full of other small items expressing cautious support for the war.

Frank Leslie’s Weekly, published from 1855 to 1922, was an American illustrated news publication started by publisher and illustrator Frank Leslie. While only 30 copies of the first edition were printed, by 1897 its circulation had grown to an estimated 65,000 copies.
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PHD29102 Daniel Boone escorting settlers through the Cumberland Gap, 1851-52 (oil on canvas) by Bingham, George Caleb (1811-79); Washington University, St. Louis, USA; (add.info.: Daniel (1734-1820) and his wife Rebecca travelling westwards to Kentucky;); American,  out of copyright

Free Webinar: Using Your Discovery Services

Using Your Discovery Services
Tuesday, April 25, 2017 at 11am EDT

Discovery services have become a critical component within most academic libraries, playing a vital role in the effort to showcase the value of a library’s collection and changing the way resources are searched. This free webinar will be hosted by:

  • Sarah Joy Arnold, Instructional Technology Librarian, User Experience Department, UNC Chapel Hill Libraries
  • Scott Anderson, Information Systems Librarian, Millersville University

They will provide valuable insights into the various discovery services — how they help researchers discover content that might be otherwise missed and improve a library’s return on investment.

Register Now


VA Secedes-OG

April 17, 1861: Virginia Votes to Secede!

On April 17, 1861, Virginia’s secession convention voted to secede from the United States and became the 8th member of the Confederate States of America.

This report on the decision and its immediate impact on the Commonwealth appeared in the Richmond Enquirer on April 18, 1861.


We have this morning to call attention to the bold and noble Proclamation of Governor Letcher. With calm dignity and determined purpose, the Executive of Virginia has spoken, and from the Atlantic to the Ohio every citizens of the State is prepared to sustain him. Gov. Letcher has fully met the expectations of the People of Virginia, and his patriotic efforts to protect his State will be fully sustained by all men in Virginia.

His reply to Simon Cameron is perfect. Short, dignified, and with bitter irony he condemns the weak and vacillating powers at Washington.

Men of Virginia, we thank God that nothing is necessary at this time to rouse you to action. Before the proclamation of Gov. Letcher was known, regiments and companies had been tendered to the Executive, and men were eager to enter the service of defending Virginia. Aggressing upon the rights of none, seeking no war. Virginia may be dragged from her efforts at peace and reconciliation by the usurpations of the Federal Executive. Her Convention has up to this time withstood every appeal to the Secessionists, and were quietly making efforts at reconstruction; her peace efforts are despised by the Federal Executive, and civil war inaugurated to bolster up the waning fortunes of a corrupt and imbecile Administration. The blood of the conflict rests upon Abraham Lincoln and his Cabinet.

Part I of our Civil War collection, A Newspaper Perspective, contains articles gleaned from over 2,500 issues of The New York Herald, The Charleston Mercury and the Richmond Enquirer, published between November 1, 1860 and April 15, 1865.
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Pershing and the Y

General Pershing Addresses the “Y” Workers

The first issues of our World War I military camp newspapers have come online.  All of the issues are available as page images, but now fourteen issues are available as searchable text with the rest on the way!

This new collection addresses a topic and period that continues to be of the widest interest and importance to scholars, students, and the general public – America in the World War I Era.  Camp newspapers make important original source material—much of it written by soldiers for soldiers—readily available for research and fresh interpretation of events about “The War to End All Wars”.

America and World War I: American Military Camp Newspapers provides users with unparalleled access to unique sources covering the experiences of American soldiers during the mobilization period in 1916, in the trenches in 1918 and through the occupation of Germany in 1919.

General Pershing addressed them on their duties as Welfare Workers.

Poster showing a portrait of General Pershing, with a quote from him in support of the United War Work Campaign.

Poster showing a portrait of General Pershing, with a quote from him in support of the United War Work Campaign.

On the afternoon of Wednesday the 29th of this month, the Secretaries of the Y.M.C.A. were courteously invited by General Pershing to meet him in the Reception Room of the Officer’s Club in Le Mans.

During the reception, General Pershing shook hands with the members of the organization and had a kindly word to say to every individua member. In a brief address, he expressed his warm appreciation of the services rendered by the Y. M. C. A. saying that he felt that without such an organization it would have been impossible for the A. E. F to have developed and maintained its present high morale.

He admitted that certain criticisms had been made against the Y.M.C.A. and that possibly some of these criticisms were wellfounded. Since no institution or organization is perfect, and humorously added that even such a perfect organization as the A.E.F. had not escaped criticism.

General Pershing added that he had mentioned these things not by way of criticism on his own part, but merely that we keep alive to all the possibilities before us and carry out the great obligations and duties resting upon us to prepare the men of the A. E. F. both for their duties here and for the duties that would devolve upon them when they returned to their homes.

Source: The Bulletin, February 5, 1919

America and World War I: American Military Camp Newspapers provides users with unparalleled access to unique sources covering the experiences of American soldiers during the mobilization period in 1916, in the trenches in 1918 and through the occupation of Germany in 1919.