Volumes and Volumes of Jefferson

Published:April 11, 2008 by Brendan Wolfe

This morning’s Washington Post tells of the Library of Congress’s effort to reproduce Thomas Jefferson’s famous library. The first third of his 6,000-plus volumes were, unsurprisingly, in the LOC’s own collection. After all, that’s where the collection came from in the first place (in 1815, an always debt-ridden Jefferson donated his library to the fledgling LOC for $24,000). The middle third was collected in time for the LOC’s bicentennial in 2000. The tough part was the final third, which has consumed collector Mark Dimunation for the past eight years. The French, apparently, were particularly helpful.

One collector in France was so captivated by the project that he spent hours looking through his collection for anything that might match a book on the list.

“There was a bookseller and he saw the list, and he was determined to find a book, and he said he spent hours and found a little pamphlet,” [collector Daniel] De Simone said. “He was so pleased.”

The final collection, which in the end is about 300 volumes short of perfect, will go on display tomorrow at the Library of Congress.

UPDATE: The New York Times also writes about the new Library of Congress exhibit, but focuses on the technology involved and how it provides history in three dimensions.

One way to treat history in an exhibition is to lay out events and surviving objects and explain their importance: the past is prelude to the present, and we are its heirs. Since the library is, in its very essence, a repository of books and manuscripts, this approach is fundamental. But it demands unusual attentiveness from the visitor.

Another approach is to show that every product of that immutable past was once something contingent, coming into existence because of choices made. A historical document may appear unchanging, but when it was written, it was growing out of a process of revision and debate. In this light history is seen as lived experience.

Read the rest here.