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What is the history behind Library of Congress being the world's biggest library? It is rather new because USA is a rather young country. One would expect some library in Paris or London, or maybe the Vatican library, to be bigger, simply because they have been going on much longer (and should have had more resources up until WW2 or so).

(There was no Library tag available, could someone add that?)

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    I'll guess it's down to money, the Library of Congress simply had more of it that others around the world. – Steve Bird Apr 3 at 9:55
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    What has preliminary research revealed? Is it the largest? As of when? – Mark C. Wallace Apr 3 at 10:15
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    @SteveBird Looking at the recent annual budgets, you're probably right. £141 mil for Brit Library vs. $642 mil for Lib of Congress. – Lars Bosteen Apr 3 at 10:54
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    Isn't that history covered in the Library of Congress Wikipedia article? Perhaps you could edit the question to clarify what more you are looking for? – sempaiscuba Apr 3 at 12:34
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    @MarkC.Wallace: I believe that there is a non trivial concern: "One would expect some library in Paris or London, or maybe the Vatican library, to be bigger, simply because they have been going on much longer (and should have had more resources up until WW2 or so)." – Tom Au Apr 4 at 18:21
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The Library of Congress is the "Great Library" of our time. It was designed as such, because it serves the Congress, President, and other leaders of the United States.

Early on, it was "seeded" with the entire personal library of (former) President Thomas Jefferson. Thereafter, it had a mandate to acquire two copies of every book published in the United States. Even if another national library has such a mandate, their economies, and hence their publications would be smaller.

After World War II, America made great efforts to "digitize" and "internationalize" the Library of Congress, probably more than any other country in the world. Basically, the Library of Congress defines "national book" more broadly than most. And even if "other" libraries may have had more resources "up to World War II or so," it's been 75 years since then, with that period covering the "American century."

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    I'm pretty sure the British Library and other national "legal deposit" libraries have a similar mandate. – Spencer Apr 3 at 15:39
  • @Spencer: OK, changed last sentence. – Tom Au Apr 3 at 15:54
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    You should probably mention the acquisition policies pursued by various Librarians of Congress (especially through the 20th century), which are also a large part of the reason, and which are covered (at least in summary) in the History section of the Library of Congress Wikipedia article. – sempaiscuba Apr 3 at 16:41
  • @sempaiscuba: OK, added new last paragraph. – Tom Au Apr 3 at 22:46
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Let me add to the answer of Tom Au that this is essentially the question of funding. For example, Soviet Union also had a library which had a "mandate to collect everything". This was the Lenin Library in Moscow. The job was facilitated by the law which made it mandatory for every Soviet publisher (actually every printer) to send a free copy of anything published/printed to this library. So I suppose this library had everything which was published or printed in Soviet Union. It had a sample of EVERY printed item, down to matchbox labels:-)

But of course they had to pay for books published abroad, and it was inferior to the Library of Congress in foreign (non Soviet) books, because of insufficient funding in foreign currency. You can maintain the best library in the world if you have a desire and enough money.

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