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United States Senate Library

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The United States Senate Library is the official library of the United States Senate.[1] While the Library informally began in 1792, it was officially established in 1871, and today holds an estimated 220,000 volumes.[1][2]

The United States Senate Librarian manages the Senate Library, which is under the supervision of the Office of the Secretary of the United States Senate. Meghan Dunn has been the Senate Librarian since 2022.[2] The Library is located in the Russell Senate Office Building in SR-B15, and its website and catalog are restricted to Senate staff.[2]

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  • Overview of the Legislative Process
  • The Library of Congress Is Your Library
  • Senate Floor
  • Executive Business in the Senate


[Music] Article I of the U.S. Constitution grants all legislative powers to a bicameral Congress: a House of Representatives and a Senate that are the result of a "Great Compromise" seeking to balance the effects of popular majorities with the interests of the states. Our system currently provides for a two-year term of office for House members from the 435 population-based districts. In the Senate, voters of each state elect two Senators, who serve 6-year terms that overlap (such that only one-third of the chamber is up for election in any given election cycle). The two chambers are fundamentally equal in their legislative roles and functions. Only the House can originate revenue legislation, and only the Senate confirms presidential nominations and approves treaties, but the enactment of law always requires both chambers to separately agree to the same bill in the same form before presenting it to the President. Because each chamber has the constitutional authority to make its own rules, the House and Senate have developed some very different ways of processing legislation, perhaps partially flowing from their constitutional differences. In general, House rules and practices allow a numerical majority to process legislation relatively quickly. Senate rules and procedures, on the other hand, favor deliberation over quick action, as they provide significant procedural leverage to individual Senators. Congressional action is typically planned and coordinated by party leaders in each chamber, who have been chosen by members of their own caucus or conference - that is, the group of members in a chamber who share a party affiliation. Majority party leaders in the House have important powers and prerogatives to effectively set the policy agenda and decide which proposals will receive floor consideration. In the Senate, the leader of the majority party is generally expected to propose items for consideration, but formal tools that allow a numerical majority to take action are few. Instead, majority party leadership typically must negotiate with minority party leaders (and often all Senators) to effectively conduct Senate floor action. In both chambers, much of the policy expertise resides in the standing committees - panels of members from both parties that typically take the lead in developing and assessing legislation. Members typically serve on a small number of committees, often for many years, allowing them to become highly knowledgeable in certain policy areas. All committees are chaired by a member of the majority party, though chairs often work closely with the committee's ranking member, the most senior member of the minority party on the committee. In almost all cases, the ratio of majority party to minority party members on a committee roughly reflects the overall partisan ratio in the congressional chamber. Committee members and staff focus much of their time on drafting and considering legislative proposals, but committees engage in other activities, as well. Once law is enacted, Congress has the prerogative and responsibility to provide oversight of policy implementation, and its committees take the lead in this effort. Both chambers provide their committees with significant powers and latitude for oversight and investigations into questions of public policy and its effects. While the engine of legislative ideas and action is Congress itself, the President has influence in the legislative process, as well. The President recommends an annual budget for federal agencies and often suggests legislation. Perhaps more significantly, the power to veto legislation can affect the content of bills passed by Congress. Since it is quite unusual for law to be enacted over a presidential veto, Congress typically must accommodate the president's position on proposed policies. The process by which a bill becomes law is rarely predictable and can vary significantly from bill to bill. In fact, for many bills, the process will not follow the sequence of congressional stages that are often understood to make up the legislative process. The presentations on specific topics that follow present a more detailed look at each of the common stages through which a bill may move, but keep in mind that complications and variations abound in practice.


The Senate Library was founded during the 2nd Congress (1791–1792) after a resolution directing the Secretary to "procure and deposit in his office, the laws of several states" for use by senators.[1] In the early years leading to the library officially becoming established, the library suffered two fires. The first fire occurred during the burning of Washington in 1814 when the British attacked Washington during the War of 1812 and sacked Capitol Hill.[3]

To replace the collection, Thomas Jefferson offered his private library at whatever price they were able to pay, installments welcome.[3] Jefferson's 6,487 volumes formed the heart of the new Library of Congress collection. The second fire occurred in 1851 and destroyed all but 20,000 volumes in the Library of Congress collection.[citation needed] The damage to the Library of Congress collections prompted the Senate to preserve its records by designating space in the Capitol for the Senate Library.[citation needed] The Senate decided to procure and install steel shelving to replace wooden shelving to fireproof their collection from future damage.[citation needed]

Secretaries oversaw the early collection of the library which included printed bills and resolutions, committee reports and other Senate documents. William Hickey, Chief Clerk of the Senate (1855–1866), had been collecting 10 copies of every Senate document since 1824. Starting to accumulate a vast collection, Hickey lobbied for a library to manage and preserve all of these documents for use by the Senate. Despite various attempts to establish a library, it was not until February 11, 1870, that the Senate designated three rooms (S-331, S-332, and S-333) in the Library of Congress for the Senate Library.

In 1871, George S. Wagner was appointed the first Senate Librarian.[1] Wagner had the task of organizing Hickey's collection for better access and for preservation purposes (many of the materials were in fragile condition). By 1890, the collection was exceeding 98,000 volumes and was outgrowing the space in the library. Many rare documents and manuscripts were in a basement storage under poor conditions. Some of the materials in this suffering storage place were signed by George Washington. In 1902, the library was appropriated funds to build steel storage shelves. The new storage space was housed in the Senate attic (S-410 and S-419).

In 1999, the Senate Library moved from the Capitol to the Russell Senate Office Building. The library now resides in SR-B15.[2]

Mission, materials, and services

The Library serves present and former senators, member and committee staff, Senate leadership, and Senate officers.[2] The mission of the Senate Library has changed over time, as a focus has changed from the collection and storage of Senate documents to providing legislative, historic, legal, business and general reference materials.[citation needed] The Senate Library aims to carry out its mission in an accurate, prompt, and nonpartisan manner.

The Library's book collection comprises hundreds of thousands of volumes on history, geography, biography, politics and law and has material dating back to the early 19th century.[2] Many were signed by the author or previous owner. The Senate Library receives the United States Congressional Serial Set, which contains over 15,000 congressional reports and documents since 1817. The Library added a legislative status database in 1975. Calls for this service have peaked at 80,000 per year.[1] Today, the library serves as many people in one day as it did in one month in 1964, nearly 60,000 inquiries per year, based primarily on the growth in Senate staff from 2,000 in 1964 to more than 7,000 today.

The Senate Library has a reading room, study carrels, computers, and a scanning and microform center.[citation needed] The Library's microfilm collection includes over one million microform and over 6,000 microfilm reels. Library tours and scheduled throughout the year and personalized tours can be made by request. The Library makes deliveries twice daily to offices with requested information.

The authorized library staff is 22 people, including the Librarian and 13 other professionals.[citation needed]

See also


  1. ^ a b c d e "THE 125TH ANNIVERSARY OF THE SENATE LIBRARY; Congressional Record Vol. 142, No. 130". Retrieved May 11, 2023.
  2. ^ a b c d e f "U.S. Senate Library -- United States Senate". Retrieved 2023-05-11.
  3. ^ a b "U.S. Senate: The Senate Buys a Library". Retrieved 2023-05-11.


  • Faust, L. UNUM: Newsletter of the Office of the Secretary of the Senate, January/February 1999, Vol 3, Issue 1.
  • United States Senate Library, S. Pub. 109-21.

38°53′34″N 77°00′25″W / 38.8928°N 77.0069°W / 38.8928; -77.0069

This page was last edited on 29 March 2024, at 01:24
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