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The main GW campus consists of 43 acres (170,000 m2) in historic Foggy Bottom and is located a few blocks from the White House, the World Bank, International Monetary Fund, State Department and the National Mall. Barring a few outlying buildings, the boundaries of campus are delineated by (running clockwise from Washington Circle) Pennsylvania Avenue, 19th Street, E Street, Virginia Avenue, 24th Street, and New Hampshire Avenue. The University owns much of the property in Foggy Bottom and leases it to various tenants, including the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. Other nearby institutions include the Harry S. Truman Building (Department of State headquarters), John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, United States Institute of Peace, Watergate complex, and the embassies of Saudi Arabia, Mexico, Spain, Uruguay, and Bosnia and Herzegovina.The university has a significant presence in the area. Signs indicating the relative location of various university buildings can be found on almost every street corner. The student union (the Marvin Center), several residence halls, the Media and Public Affairs building, Academic Center and other major academic buildings are located within a three-block radius of University Yard (the original quadrangle on campus).

The nearby area surrounding George Washington's main library, Gelman Library, forms the hub of the campus. The seven-story library building contains over two million volumes and is constructed in the Brutalist architectural style of the 1970s. It features a concrete façade punctuated by windows that are divided by projecting vertical slabs. For most of the year, parts of the library are open 24 hours a day, seven days per week for use by students, faculty and staff. The seventh floor of the library includes the Special Collections Research Center, National Security Archives (NSA), Global Resources Center, and Kiev Library. The NSA is a research institution that publishes declassified U.S. government files concerning selected topics of American foreign policy. It was a National Security Archive Freedom of Information Act request that eventually made the Central Intelligence Agency's so-called "Family Jewels" public.

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