Project Methodology

Transcribing Sources

Manuscript Book Lists

The creation of the Thomas Jefferson’s Libraries database began with the transcription of Jefferson’s manuscript book lists, namely the 1783 Catalog, the 1789 Catalog, the Trist Catalogue, and the Retirement Library Catalogue.

These book lists consist of list entries or short titles. A typical Jefferson short title consists of an abbreviated title, number of volumes, size, and sometimes publication date. His book entries follow a conventional bibliographical format commonly used in the eighteenth-century. Some short title entries in Jefferson’s 1789 Catalog also include prices.

Book entries in Jefferson’s own hand are transcribed in their entirety. The intent is to present the text as it appears in the original book list. As far as is practicable, all of Jefferson’s check marks, backslashes, punctuation, symbols, and page markings have been transcribed, including his cross-outs, deletions, misspellings, and slips of the pen.

There are currently, however, two exceptions, that users should take note of:

1. The backslashes preceding most titles in Jefferson's 1789 Catalog were omitted when this manuscript was first transcribed and are not currently rendered in the transcription. Some of these backslashes extend through several consecutive titles all at once, and present a unique challenge for us to reproduce on the Web. These backslashes may be incorporated into the transcription as we continue to enhance our database. For now, users should refer to the manuscript images for the 1789 Catalog to view these slash marks.

2. Jefferson often utilized braces in his manuscript book lists to group works together. When some of the manuscript lists were first transcribed in Microsoft Word (some even before the commencement of the Thomas Jefferson's Libraries project), these braces could not be rendered as they appear in the manuscript - this is true in the case of the March 1783 Library Reconstructed list, the 1789 and 1783 Catalogs, and the Retirement Library Catalogue. Now that the transcriptions for these four lists are in a web environment, we are in the process of making changes to these transcriptions to render these braces, as far as possible, as they appear in Jefferson's manuscript book lists.

Crossed-out and erased entries are included wherever possible as separate list entries in the database. These have been reproduced for display as far as modern typography on the Web will allow. Where symbols cannot be reproduced, the symbol is replaced in the transcription by a description of the symbol surrounded by brackets, for example, [livre tournois]. Textual Devices have been employed as part of the editorial apparatus to indicate where erasures and cross-outs begin and end, or where illegibility has compromised transcription from the original manuscript.

In the interest of completeness, many partially erased or obscured works have been included if they are discernible or sufficiently distinct. There are occurrences where list entries were erased and overwritten by newer entries. Wherever possible, these overwritten entries have been included as separate list entries as well. In this connection, we welcome comments and suggestions to improve the accuracy of our transcriptions, especially in cases where conjectural reading has been applied. See Contact Us.

These manuscript transcriptions 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.


Print Bibliographies And Sale Catalogues

Besides Jefferson’s manuscript book lists, three important published sources documenting books Jefferson owned have also been transcribed and included in the database. Prior to this effort, the Sowerby Catalogue print bibliography, and two sale catalogues, the Poor Catalogue and Leavitt Catalogue, were all previously available only in print.

The book entries from the 1952-1959 edition of Sowerby's Catalogue of the Library of Thomas Jefferson, along with Sowerby’s very extensive editorial and biographical notes, have been transcribed. In the coming weeks, we will be replacing this transcription with an enhanced version which incorporates ALL of her additions and corrections published in Volume V in individual entries and annotations, which will make this online edition the most complete version available.

All three of the print sources above were transcribed by Barden between 1999 and 2002.


Reconstructed Libraries

Apart from library collections transcribed from the manuscript book lists and catalogues mentioned above, three additional collections or subcollections within Jefferson’s library collections have been derived or reconstructed from various primary sources.

The Shadwell Library Reconstructed list of books has been compiled from will records from the estate of his father, Peter Jefferson, book entries from Jefferson’s commonplace books, records of his book purchases found in the Virginia Gazette Daybooks, and books he recommended in his letter to Robert Skipwith in August 1771 the year following the fire at Shadwell.

The March 1783 Library Reconstructed list is derived from the titles Jefferson marked in his 1783 Catalog as titles he owned as at 6 March 1783. This list was reconstructed by Baughn for this project.

The Poplar Forest Library Reconstructed list is derived from notitia found in Jefferson's Retirement Library Catalogue and from references to specific titles in his retirement correspondence. This list was also reconstructed by Baughn in 2006.


Creating the Master List of Book Entries

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 from all of the manuscript book lists, print bibliographies, sale catalogues and reconstructed lists mentioned above.

Key data fields from the Sowerby Catalogue such as title, author, publisher, publication date and edition, were harvested through a programmatic process to create a Provisional Master List of book entries. The Sowerby Catalogue was chosen as a base for our Provisional Master List as it was the most comprehensive list available among all of the lists we had transcribed. Custom-built tools were then developed to link individual list entries in each book list to its corresponding book entry if found in this Provisional Master List. Where no corresponding book entry was found, a new record was created in the Provisional Master List to represent that book entry. Once an initial linking process was completed, a merge process was developed to combine all of the book entries from the various book lists and catalogues to form what became the Master List of book entries. This initial linking effort was completed in 2006. For more details, see Book List Processing.

In 2007, the book entry records of major collections of extant Jefferson books at the Library of Congress and the University of Virginia were added to the database, and this initial database was made available to the public in early 2008.


Migration of Book Entries to LibraryThing

Since late 2008, efforts have been focused on migrating the book entries from the initial database into LibraryThing. A year earlier in 2007, a group of LibraryThing users, led by Jeremy Dibbell (former Assistant Reference Librarian at the Massachusetts Historical Society and now Director of Communications and Outreach, Rare Book School, University of Virginia), had banded together and cataloged the books Jefferson sold to Congress in 1815 in LibraryThing as part of the Legacy Libraries project. They utilized the Sowerby Catalogue, which had been newly digitized and made available online by the Library of Congress. In 2008, the Thomas Jefferson's Libraries project joined forces with LibraryThing, and became part of the Libraries of Early America project on LibraryThing, with the goal of expanding the database created in 2007 by LibraryThing volunteers with the data amassed by the Thomas Jefferson's Libraries project. The Libraries of Early America project is headed by Dibbell.

Existing LibraryThing entries from 2007, which were limited to information that was available in the Sowerby Catalogue and Trist Catalogue, are now being enriched to include links to page images and transcriptions of Jefferson's manuscript book lists, information on when Jefferson owned a title and the various editions he owned, and information regarding the location of the extant copy if known. LibraryThing records consist of bibliographic descriptions of Jefferson’s books or imprints similar to books we know Jefferson owned. These cataloging records are based on actual imprints that exist in libraries or repositories around the world, and they provide a standard and established way to describe book titles in the database.

By combining our collective efforts, users of both sites are now able to:

  • Search for Jefferson's books by keyword, title/author, subject or by classification tags;
  • Browse Jefferson's libraries by Collections;
  • Browse page transcriptions of Jefferson’s book lists and catalogues;
  • Link to page images and transcriptions of Jefferson's manuscript book lists from individual book entries;
  • Find out when Jefferson owned a title, the various editions he owned, and what he thought of a certain title or author under Reviews;
  • Find information regarding the location of the extant copy if known;
  • See the distribution of authors and subjects in Jefferson's library; and
  • Easily compare the books Jefferson shared in common with his contemporaries and other individuals (see section on Members with ThomasJefferson's books).

For a complete list of the sources used in this project, see Sources.