Now if we really wanted to encapsule, for some future millennium, all that has been thought and dreamed since words were written, we could start by laminating three city blocks to the east of the U.S. Capitol building.

The Library of Congress.

And let those future dreamers wander as we can among the statued- and-gilt halls of the Jefferson Building, baroque rococo but a jewel all the same. And take in the dry, moldy aroma of aging books in the John Adams Building, or the crisp, fresh-paint smell of the James Madison Building. And browse -- perhaps for a lifetime -- among the library's 532 miles of shelves.

And wonder, as we do, at 20 million books.

Among these books are the Gutenberg Bible -- one of three perfect vellum copies in existence, on permanent display. First editions of Copernicus and Newton. Not to mention Houdini's private collection of magic books. And 2,300 comic book titles.

It's the largest library in the world, and no other haven of learning compares to it. But because the Library of Congress is also one of the premier attics of this country, it houses 60 million other things: 35 million manuscripts; nine million photographs; four million maps and atlases; and posters, fine prints, films, sheet music and records.

Nestled among all these things are Thomas Jefferson's first rough draft of the Declaration of Independence; not one, but two handwritten copies of the Gettysburg Address; and the first telegraph transcription, the words "What hath God wrought?"

There are more treasures: original manuscripts of Bach, Brahms, Beethoven and Mozart, and the first version of Gershwin's "Rhapsody in Blue."

And Charles Dickens' walking stick, the contents of Lincoln's pockets the night he was assassinated, five Stradivari (three violins, a viola and a cello) and the world's largest collection of flutes.