As the largest research library in the world, the Library of Congress has had a very expansive collection policy, which it describes as follows:

The Library’s acquisitions policies are based on three fundamental principles that the Library should possess:

  1. All books and other library materials necessary to the Congress and the various officers of the Federal Government to perform their duties.

  2. All books and other materials which record the life and achievements of the American people.

  3. Records of other societies, past and present, especially of those societies and peoples whose experience is of the most immediate concern to the people of the United States.2

In another place, LC describes its policy as follows:

The extent of the Library’s collection building activities is extremely broad, covering virtually every discipline and field of study, and including the entire range of different forms of publication and media for recording and storing knowledge. The Library has always recognized that its preeminent role is to collect at the national level. It has striven to develop richly representative collections in all fields, except technical agriculture and clinical medicine (where it yields precedence to the National Agricultural Library and the National Library of Medicine, respectively).3

The Library’s policies and practices in respect to traditional materials are sophisticated and highly evolved, reflecting decades of experience and infrastructure development. The Library uses a variety of mechanisms to build its collections (see Box 3.1), including the following:

  • Selecting published works for the permanent collection from materials that authors and publishers submit on their own initiative to satisfy the mandatory deposit requirement of the copyright law. Receipts from the Copyright Office constitute the core of the collection, particularly those in four divisions: Geography and Map; Music; Motion Picture, Broadcasting and Recorded Sound; and Prints and Photographs.4 Selectors examine the cartloads of materials in the Copyright Office to identify those items that will be retained for the permanent collections; approximately one-half of the published materials (and virtually none of the


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Data derived from the Acquisitions Frequently Asked Questions list, available online at <>. Some of the materials received through the Copyright Office are transferred to other institutions (e.g., National Library of Medicine).

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