On November 1, 1897, the first Library of Congress building opened its doors to the public. Previously, the Library had been housed in the Congressional Reading Room in the U.S. Capitol.
In 1871, Librarian of Congress Ainsworth Spofford suggested the construction of a separate building for the Library which had outgrown its cramped quarters. Congress approved the plan in 1886, and architects John L. Smithmeyer and Paul J. Pelz set out to design a facility worthy of Spofford's concept of the Library of Congress as "America's National Library."
According to Library historian John Cole, Spofford "envisioned a circular, domed reading room at the Library's center, surrounded by ample space for the Library's various departments." When completed, it was the largest and costliest library building in the world.