Special collections play a critical role in the library's mission to make its resources available and useful to the US Congress and the American people and to sustain and preserve a universal collection of knowledge. Since its founding in 1800, the library has assembled more than 134 million items. In addition to electronic resources and 32 million books and other print materials, the library offers information in such special formats as 2.8 million recordings, 5.3 million maps, 12.5 million photographs, and 59.5 million manuscripts. The purchase of Thomas Jefferson's library in 1815 became a special collections cornerstone that generous benefactors continue to build on. Recent acquisition highlights include the Waldseemüller world map on which the name America first appeared in 1507, the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater Archive, the Coca-Cola Company television broadcast advertising materials, and Veterans History Project submissions.
The Historic American Buildings Survey, the Comic Book Collection, and the Technical Reports Collection are among the many resources consulted frequently by both the general public and scholarly experts. The special international resources that span many centuries include cuneiform tablets as well as the Archive of Hispanic Literature on Tape. Among the top treasures are presidential papers from George Washington through Calvin Coolidge, a perfect copy on vellum of the Gutenberg Bible, and "Migrant Mother"—Dorothea Lange's iconic photograph of the Great Depression.
Through more than 20 research centers, library specialists help people worldwide connect effectively to the library's collections with onsite services and Web-based resources. Many divisions publish illustrated guides, available online or as printed booklets. The library also hosts such programs as the Kluge Fellowships and the Junior Fellows summer internships to encourage both advanced research for senior scholars and hands-on experience with original historical resources for students.
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