Skip to Main Content

Religion Collections in Libraries and Archives: Maryland, Virginia and the District of Columbia

Library of Congress: Performing Arts Reading Room

Introductory Information

Library of Congress Performing Arts Reading Room

Address: 101 Independence Ave., SE, Room LM 113, James Madison Memorial Bldg, Washington, D.C. 20540-4710

Telephone number: 202-707-5507

Contact information

Online catalog

Digital Collections link

Access Policies

Hours of service

Open to the public: Yes

Interlibrary loan: Yes

Reference policy: Reference requests are accepted by: telephone, in-person, or the Ask-a-Librarian form

A Library of Congress Reader Registration card is required to use Library of Congress reading rooms. To obtain a registration card, applicants must be 16 years of age or older and present photo identification bearing a verifiable permanent address. Please see for more information.

Background note:
The Music Division was established in 1896, and is the custodial division for more than 25 million items.  Holdings include the classified music and book collections, music and literary manuscripts, iconography, microforms, periodicals, musical instruments, published and unpublished copyright deposits, and over 500 special collections in music, theater, and dance.


Books and monographs
The Music Division holds thousands of books pertaining to the musical traditions of world religions. The collection includes a wide variety of material, including many rare libretti for sacred vocal works and unique indexes and bibliographies of sacred music. In addition to complete books and monographs, some early collections of sacred music include instructional manuals and prefaces that illuminate the history of sacred music practice. The collection is particularly strong in texts of, and works about, Christian vocal music (masses, oratorios, cantatas, hymns, etc.).  Researchers should be aware that many published hymnals without musical notation (text only) are found outside the Music Division in the BV classification.  Similarly, books and monographs in non-Latin scripts are found elsewhere in the Library, even if they are cataloged with ML or MT call numbers. For example, Chinese-language books pertaining to music traditions of Buddhism may be accessed in the Asian Reading Room (LJ-150).

Music Scores
The music scores in class M include tens of thousands of volumes and individual pieces of sheet music containing religious music, both published or in manuscript.  These have been cataloged under various classification numbers according to genre, instrumentation, format, single or multiple composer content, arrangement, dates of publication, etc. Highlights include published editions of early black gospel music and spirituals, western liturgical chant manuscript fragments from the 10th through 16th centuries, early sacred part books many of which are exceedingly rare or completely unique, early American sacred music including 18th-century manuscripts from the Ephrata cloister in Pennsylvania, and important holograph manuscripts from the European classical tradition by Bach, Mendelssohn, Brahms, and others.

Periodicals and newspapers
Approximately 300 titles of journals on various aspects of religious music are found in the on-line catalog. Additional titles are listed in the card catalog and other print resources in the Performing Arts Reading Room. Please contact the Music Division for more information.

Archives, manuscripts, correspondences, and/or oral histories
Religious music is represented in several special collections in the Music Division, including:

A full list of special collections in the Music Division is available.
Note: Unprocessed collections are not served without prior arrangement with the Head of the Acquisitions and Processing Section.

Many of the special collections in the Music Division contain photographs. In addition, there is an iconography card file that serves as an index to drawings, etchings, lithographs, and photographs of paintings of hundreds of composers and musicians that appear in published books dating from the 19th and early 20th centuries

Databases and/or electronic resources

Digital collections
A full list of digital collections related to the performing arts.

Highlights include:

Subject Headings

Church music; Gospel music; Gregorian chant; Hymns and hymnals; Sacred vocal music; Spirituals


Spiritual Index: an in-house card file indexing early spiritual anthologies. Please contact Music Division for more information.