The Library of Congress is not only the nation’s library but is also the world’s largest library. It is a research service for the U.S. Congress, home of the Copyright Office of the United States, a national library for the blind and physically handicapped and the home of the Poet Laureate. Its collections, based on the Jeffersonian ideal that all subjects will be of interest and value to Congress and, by extension, to the scholar and researcher, hold over 160 million items from all over the world, from ancient Chinese woodblock prints to electronic media. The collections include the papers of 23 presidents and the works of many eminent Americans. Since its founding in 1800, the Library has collected materials without regard to format, language, or subject. Indeed, over 450 languages are represented in its collections. These principles reflect the underlying premise that allows the Library to implement the overall mission to make its resources available and useful to Congress and the American people and to sustain and preserve a universal collection of knowledge and creativity for future generations.
The Collections Policy Statements govern the Library's collection development and acquisitions efforts. They provide the policy framework to support the Library's responsibilities to serve the Congress as well as the United States Government as a whole, the scholarly community, and the general public. The policies provide a plan for developing the collections and maintaining their existing strengths. They set forth the scope, level of collecting intensity and goals sought by the Library to fulfill its service mission.
The Library's collection building activities are extremely broad, covering virtually every discipline and field of study, including the entire range of different forms of publication and media for recording and storing knowledge, with the exception of technical agriculture, clinical medicine, and unpublished foreign doctoral dissertations (where it yields to the National Agricultural Library, the National Library of Medicine, and the Center for Research Libraries, respectively). The Library's goal is to formulate statements which are sufficiently inclusive to ensure this broad coverage, yet specific enough to serve the particular needs of the Library's varied clienteles.
The Library has been developing its body of Collections Policy Statements since the mid-20th century, and has based their formulation on three fundamental principles, or "canons of selection," which succinctly summarize its collection development programs:
- The Library should possess all books and other library materials necessary to the Congress and the various officers of the Federal Government to perform their duties;
- The Library should possess all books and other materials (whether in original form or copy) which record the life and achievement of the American people; and
- The Library should possess in some useful form, the records of other societies, past and present, and should accumulate, in original or in copy, full and representative collections of the written records of those societies and peoples whose experience is of most immediate concern to the people of the United States.
The Library does not acquire all published materials but selects from copyright deposits and other sources based on these Collections Policy Statements designed to ensure that the Library acquires important and scholarly works.
In many of the special format collections, emphasis is on acquiring and recording publications related to the history and culture of America, with representative samples acquired from other countries.
It should be noted that these collecting levels are aspirational in nature. That is, they are goals for guiding our collecting policies. Changing resources in, for example, budgets or human capital, may require adjustments in collection building, especially at the comprehensive level.