The sixteenth century collections at the Library of Congress are primarily focused on the political, legal, religious, economic and cultural development of Western Europe, and on the age of discovery. Significant holdings can be found in the Rare Book and Special Collection Division, the Geography and Map Division, the Law Library, the Manuscript Division, the Music Division, and Africa and Middle East Division.

The Rare Book and Special Collections Division (RBSCD) is composed of over 100 named collections, many of which have sixteenth-century holdings. Perhaps the most notable is the Rosenwald Collection, which includes over 800 illustrated books printed in the sixteenth century in Western Europe. This collection is particularly strong in medical, scientific, and architectural illustration, represented in German, Italian, and French language imprints. These early printed book collections are complemented by large holdings of contemporary history, travel, and literature.

Other named collections in the division include the Vocabulario della Crusca Collection, a grouping of books and broadsides that reflects attempts to standardize the Italian language and to development of a national literature. The Italian materials are complemented by the work of French and Dutch rhetoricians who were attempting to produce the same results. The vernacular Bible collection is composed of hundreds of sixteenth-century editions, which are supported by collections of breviaries, books of hours, and liturgical books. Closely associated with the bible collection are the Reformation and Luther Collections.

The RBSCD also has significant holdings documenting the age of discovery. Books from the Vollbehr Collection, the Thacher Collection, the Bachelder Collection, the Peter Force Collection, the Henry Harrisse Collection, and the Hans Peter Kraus Collection of Sir Francis Drake, primarily focus on Columbus and the new world. The Library's holdings also included significant groups of books on the exploration of the pacific, China and India; and collections of books of travel around the Mediterranean world, the Middle East and overland travels to the Far East. A collection recently given to the Library by Jay Kislak contains books, manuscripts, paintings, and artifacts documenting the history of Florida, Mexico, and Central America.

Other collections of sixteenth-century books in RBSCD include the Bitting Collection of Gastronomy; the early printed books collection, devoted to fine printing in Europe 1500-1520; the English Printing Collection from 1520-1640; the sixteenth-century book binding collection; the Gryphius collection of books printed in Lyon; and the Spanish American imprint collection from the sixteenth to the eighteenth centuries.

The Library's Geography and Map Division (G&M) is responsible for the most comprehensive collection in the world of cartography and it includes five million maps, 80,000 atlases, a significant collection of early globes and globe gores, and 6,000 reference works. Its collections of atlases include 37 different editions of Ptolemy's Geographica printed before 1600, three manuscript portolan atlases including a world atlas drawn in 1544, and 19 portolan charts, depicting the Mediterranean, South American, and world navigation routes. In addition the holdings of the G&M Division document the development of the city atlas and the town history during the sixteenth century. Its holdings also include numerous atlases by Lafreyer, Ortelius, Mercator, Gerard de Jode, Bougereau, Saxon and Schoner.

The Law Library is separate from all other custodial units at the Library and it reports directly to the Librarian of Congress. Its sixteenth-century holdings are particularly strong in five areas. First is the collection of Consilia, publications that address questions of law raised during actual litigation. The collection includes 450 titles printed during the sixteenth century. They were mostly written by Italian scholars who were experts in Roman law but also include arguments by German, Spanish, French, Dutch, and Portuguese jurists. Closely associated with the Consilia is the collection of French Coutume or common law, that includes 500 titles printed before 1700, most of which were printed in the sixteenth century. This collection also contains French language examples.

The Law Library's collections on Canon Law and Roman Law are also significant. The holdings include over 500 sixteenth-century titles documenting the evolution of ecclesiastical law of the Roman church. The sixteenth-century Roman Law collections consist of nearly 1300 titles, including pre-Justianian Roman law sources, many early editions of Justinian's Corpus Juris, medieval sources of Roman Law, glossed editions of Roman texts, and commentaries and later interpretative works. Finally, the Law Library contains an Early English Statutes collection consisting of 250 separate statues, abridgements, and sessions laws printed before 1620, many of which are recorded in Beale's Bibliography of English Law Books, published 1926.

The Manuscript Division (MD) includes three significant collections of sixteenth-century material, all of which are related to Central and South America. The Hans P. Kraus Collection of Spanish American documents includes 150 items which reflect the social structure and the living condition of the native populations, the activities of the Spanish Church in New Spain, and the legal system and inquisition in Mexico. The G. R. G. Conway Collection of Mexican history contains 46 volumes of original documents, maps and imprints, many of which document the condition of the English in Mexico and their experiences with the Inquisition. There are also documents on the Jews who came to Mexico before the Inquisition and their experiences once they became the subject of investigation by the legal tribunal. Finally, the Harkness Collection of Mexico and Peru documents 200 years of Spanish control in those two states. The Mexican manuscripts (over 3000 folio pages) are related to the Cortes and the affairs of the Cortes family, with many documents relating to the Cortes-Avila conspiracy, and the judicial proceedings of the Inquisition during the 16th century. The Peruvian manuscript collection (nearly 1500 folio pages) includes provincial documents sent from Peru to Spain, vice regal decrees, and numerous documents relating to Francesco Pizzaro and Diego de Almagro key figures in the Spanish conquest of Peru.

The holdings of the Music Division are well known for their scope and complexity. Its sixteenth-century collections include numerous early theoretical works that begin with the 1504 edition of Petrucci's Harmonae, in addition to collections of musical treatises derived from the manuscript period that recorded various classical works on the subject. The Music Division holdings also includes a significant group of chant books, choir books, antiphonaries and graduals, and, from later in the century, a large collection of madrigals printed all over Europe. The collection also includes a series of motets from the 1580s which are rare engravings that include musical notation as part of the design.

The African & Middle East Division (AMED) also has sixteenth-century holdings, including the Mansuri Collection, which documents the legal and social aspects of Islamic society during the mid- to late-sixteenth century. It includes nearly 200 manuscripts and 1000 printed books. The AMED also includes thousands of later works, often reprints and interpretative material documenting Islamic society from 1500 to the middle of the seventeenth century. These works are often written in European languages and were sent to the Library of Congress as part of exchange programs that began in the mid-nineteenth century.

More detailed information, as well as links to the Library's digital collections can be found at the Library of Congress website:

For direct contacts with various Divisions contact: