Tomorrow we’re having a party. Maybe you’ve heard.
The Library of Congress is throwing open its bronze doors to the public for the first time since 1990 to celebrate the new Library of Congress Experience, a project for which I have run out of superlatives, so I will leave the descriptions to sources of less bias. (Those doors, entering directly into the spectacular Great Hall, will now be the main entrance to the Thomas Jefferson Building from the outside.)
We are celebrating Congress’s Library—everything that Congress has done to sustain this institution for 208 years, including not just financial support, but also the decision by the Congress to make the Library of Congress the nation’s copyright repository.
But there was also a singular act of Congress dating back nearly 200 years, a matter of some controversy at the time, that would forever change the course of the Library of Congress and our collecting philosophy. That is to say, after the British used the contents of the original Library to burn the Capitol in 1814, Congress the following year purchased the 6,487-volume personal library of Thomas Jefferson, which “recommenced” the Library and helped establish the “universal” nature of our collections.
This Sunday is Jefferson’s 265th birthday, but tomorrow his original Library goes back on display in stunning fashion in the building that bears his name, one important aspect of an Experience our visitors will never forget.
The Washington Post today ran a great story (front page!) about Thomas Jefferson’s library, and our own staff newsletter, The Library of Congress Gazette, examined the story behind Thomas Jefferson’s library in even greater detail, which I have reproduced in full after the jump, led by our crackerjack editor, Gail Fineberg.
One aspect of the story I’d like to underscore because of the viral nature of the Web: The Library, in a project funded by Jerry and Gene Jones, has spent several years reconstructing Jefferson’s library, roughly two-thirds of which perished in 1851 in yet another fire. We need to replace only about 300 of the 6,487 original titles, so insofar as this can be considered a plea to the rare-book blogosphere, well, that’s on the table.