Background

In 2004, the Thomas Jefferson Foundation was awarded a three-year grant of $140,140 by the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) to fund the Thomas Jefferson’s Libraries project. The goal of the project is to compile and catalog the book titles Jefferson owned and utilized throughout his lifetime. Prior to the inception of this project, a comprehensive list of books in his various libraries has never been compiled, making this information relatively inaccessible to scholars and members of the public. In late 2008, this project became part of the Libraries of Early America project on LibraryThing. Data from this project is being incorporated into Thomas Jefferson's library on LibraryThing.

An avid book collector and self-confessed bibliomaniac, Jefferson kept meticulous lists of the books he owned and the titles he hoped to acquire. These manuscript lists form the basis of much of our current understanding of the books known to him and the libraries he amassed in the course of his life. By examining these lists along with Jefferson’s extensive correspondence, we gain vital insight into his book collections, and better understanding of the source of Jefferson’s ideas and the writings that influenced his thinking.

In partnership with LibraryThing, Thomas Jefferson’s Libraries is a database of the books Jefferson owned, desired to own, knew about or recommended to others at different times in his life. The book records reside in LibraryThing, with links to transcriptions of book entries found in major Jefferson manuscript book lists, print compilations, and sale catalogues, as well as information on purchase orders/records and references to books found in Jefferson's correspondence.

The transcriptions in this project originate from work carried out by John R. Barden (former Head of Reference and Research Services at the University of Richmond School of Law, and now Director, Law and Legislative Reference Library, State of Maine) between 1999 and 2002, and by Thomas Baughn (former independent scholar and now Historian with the Marine Corps at Quantico) who worked extensively on the project from 2004 to 2007.

In 2005, staff from the Jefferson Library worked closely with Barden and Baughn, and consultant Stephen Perkins from Dataformat.com to create an initial XML-based database of book entries. Once the book entries were compiled, the project team turned to identifying and linking together similar imprints of titles found in the different manuscript book lists. This was accomplished by using linking and later scripting tools custom-built for the project by Perkins. An initial linking effort was completed in 2006. In 2007, the book entry records were programmatically linked to page transcriptions and manuscript images, and bibliographic records of major collections of extant Jefferson books at the Library of Congress and the University of Virginia were added to the database. The initial database was made available to the public in early 2008.

Since late 2008, efforts have been focused on migrating the book entries from the initial database into LibraryThing, thereby significantly expanding and enhancing the entries created in 2007 for the library Jefferson sold to Congress in 1815 by a group of LibraryThing volunteers led by Jeremy Dibbell as part of the Legacy Libraries project on LibraryThing.

For an overview of the project as it stands currently, see Coverage.

For plans on how this project will continue to evolve, see Future Additions.


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