Address: 101 Independence Ave. SE, Thomas Jefferson Building, LJ 239, Washington, D.C. 20540-4740
Telephone number: 202-707-3448
Open to the public: Yes. Must be 18 years of age. As many collections are stored offsite, researchers are strongly encouraged to contact Reference Staff prior to their visit.
Interlibrary loan: No
Reference policy: Reference requests are accepted by Ask-a-Librarian form, telephone, in person
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 Reader Registration and Access to Library of Congress Reading Rooms for more information.
Please note that one must be 18 years of age in order to use the Rare Book and Special Collections Reading Room
When the burning of the Capitol by the British destroyed Congress' library in 1814, Thomas Jefferson offered to sell Congress his broad and varied collection of books. This collection became the basis of the Library of Congress and serves today as the core collection of the Rare Book and Special Collections Reading Room. Jefferson's library contained nearly 200 works of a religious nature, nearly all pertaining to Christianity or the Bible. He also owned an English translation of the Koran and two works on the gods and goddesses of the classical era. While the Library of Congress did not initially create a special division for its rare materials, over time it collected such a large variety of rare books, pamphlets, manuscripts, and ephemera that the quantity of material created the need for such a division by the 1920s. It moved to its present reading room in 1934.
Books and monographs
The Division owns approximately 43% of all books known to have been published in America before 1801. By the very nature of publishing at this time, much of this material relates to religion in some way. Geographical strengths of the collection are American and European.
It is impossible to note all titles or collections, but some of the most important collections containing religion titles are listed below:
The researcher will find catalog records for the majority of the Division's holdings in the computer catalog. Recent acquisitions may not appear, and searching for early printed material in the online catalog in various languages can be challenging. Researchers are strongly encouraged to contact the Reading Room Staff for assistance. Many of the collections are stored in an offsite location. Some collections have printed catalogs that provide access to individual special collections or have been annotated to indicate the Division's holdings. These reference resources can be especially useful for copy-specific research projects.
Periodicals and newspapers
It is difficult to estimate just how many periodicals are contained in the Rare Book and Special Collections Reading Room. Some periodicals are kept here as adjunct items to a particular special collection. Christian Science periodicals would be an example of this. Most other periodicals are here as part of the pre-1801 collection. Periodicals that begin before 1801 and continue through but not past 1830 are kept here in full. Those that begin before 1801 and continue past 1830 are kept here through 1801 only.
Newspapers are not kept in any great number by this reading room. Most of the Library's collections belong to the Newspaper and Current Periodical Reading Room. Researchers interested in serial literature should contact the Division prior to their visit to insure that the desired material is available, and that staff have time to locate specific issues.
Archives, manuscripts, correspondences, and/or oral histories
While the Rare Book and Special Collections Reading Room contains primarily printed materials, there are some important manuscript collections relating to religion:
Pamphlets and Tracts
African Americans--Religion; Bible; Christian Right; Christian Science; Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints; Eastern Orthodox Church; Jerome, Saint, d. 419 or 420; Luther, Martin, 1483-1546; Magic; Missions and missionaries; Reformation; Religious tracts; Russian Orthodox Church; Sermons; Shakers; Spiritualism