Last summer I visited the Library of Congress, and the “Jefferson’s Library” exhibit blew me away. A pane of glass separated me from Thomas Jefferson’s personal collection – the collection that spurred the advent of the Library of Congress. My inner librarian sang out (albeit quietly) with ecstasy.

As presidents go, I have always been partial to Abe Lincoln. He single-handedly made the top hat iconic. But upon seeing Jefferson’s library, I could feel my allegiance shifting. I cursed myself for visiting Honest Abe earlier that morning, and doubly cursed the Tidal Basin for making the Jefferson Memorial inconveniently remote for pedestrians.

To atone for my Jefferson snub, I read a book called Jefferson’s Books while intermittently stroking the face of a nickel. Among other things, I learned that Jefferson was a connoisseur of books and information to the extent that he could never, ever have enough. In an 1815 transaction that induced much disdain from Jefferson’s political opponents, the U.S. Government purchased his library of 6,700 books for $23,950.1 Cyrus King lamented that Jefferson’s books were “good, bad, and indifferent, old, new, and worthless, in languages which many can not read, and most ought not,” and the Boston Gazette deemed his collection full of “finery and philosophical nonsense.”1 Jefferson, however, claimed that “there is, in fact, no subject to which a member of Congress may not have occasion to refer.”1

I’d like to think those Jefferson haters would eat their words if they could see the library system that he inspired. Jefferson was a pioneer in the acquisition and dissemination of information, and on some level, everyone at GSLIS is here because of him. On President’s Day, we should all be holding nickels and raucously (since we don’t have class) singing out Jefferson’s praises.

More information:

1Wilson, Douglas L. Jefferson’s Books. Lynchburg: Progress Printing, 1996. Print.

http://www.loc.gov/exhibits/jefferson/jefflib.html

Libraries


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