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Last Updated: Sep 15, 2014 URL: Print Guide RSS Updates

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Jefferson's Library "I cannot live without books,"

"Through a generous grant from Jerry and Gene Jones, the Library of Congress is attempting to reassemble Jefferson's library as it was sold to Congress. Although the broad scope of Jefferson's library was a cause for criticism of the purchase, Jefferson extolled the virtue of its broad sweep and established the principle of acquisition for the Library of Congress: "there is in fact no subject to which a member of Congress may not have occasion to refer." Proclaiming that "I cannot live without books," Jefferson began a second collection of several thousand books, which was sold at auction in 1829 to help satisfy his creditors."

Thomas Jefferson's Library Exhibit, Library of Congress

Jefferson's Letter

"On learning of the burning of the Capitol and the loss of the 3,000-volume Library of Congress, Thomas Jefferson wrote to his friend, newspaper publisher, Samuel H. Smith (1772-1845) asking him to offer Congress his personal library of between "9 and 10,000 volumes" as a replacement."

Jefferson's classification of books
In Thomas Jefferson's day, most libraries were arranged alphabetically. But Jefferson preferred to arrange his by subject. He chose Lord Bacon's table of science, the hierarchy of

Memory (History)

Reason (Philosophy)

Imagination (Fine Arts)

to order his arrangement of books by subject with some modifications.

The resulting arrangement as illustrated in the Nicholas Trist (1800-1870) copy of Jefferson's library catalog for 1815 is a combination of subject and chronology. In practice, however, Jefferson shelved his books by size.

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