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Jefferson's Books at the Library of Congress

Endrina Tay

Recently on a weekend trip to D.C. I stopped in at the Library of Congress to visit the Thomas Jefferson's Library exhibit.  This reconstructed library of the books Jefferson sold to Congress in 1815 was unveiled on Apr 12 this year as part of the new Library of Congress Experience, exhibits that allow users to interact with primary sources from American history.

This is not the first time Jefferson's reconstructed library has gone on display.  In 2000 as part of the Thomas Jefferson exhibition to commemorate the Library of Congress Bicentennial, the library was put on public display for the first time in Jefferson's own arrangement, which he described as "sometimes analytical, sometimes chronological, and sometimes a combination of both."  Since 2000 several hundred missing volumes have been purchased and added to this assemblage.

The books are arranged in three sections.  What's new are interactive touchscreen panels in front of these three sections namely, "Memory," "Reason," and "Imagination" - the classification Jefferson used based upon Francis Bacon's organization of knowledge.  He interpreted these categories as "History," "Philosophy," and "Fine Arts," which he further divided into forty-four chapters.  By touching the screen users can drill down through each of these chapters to see the titles and authors of the books that Jefferson had.  They can choose from a selection of Jefferson titles from a virtual bookshelf, and "turn" the pages of a digitized version of Jefferson's very own copy of that book.  Examples include the 1805 edition of Mercy Otis Warren's History of the Rise, Progress, and Termination of the American Revolution, and the 1734 edition of The Builder's Dictionary; or Gentleman and Architect's CompanionThe Library of Congress Experience's companion site,, allows users to save digital images of primary source materials on the site into their own collections for teaching and learning.   So next time you're in the D.C. area, go check this out ...

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