How to Organize a Library: Thomas Jefferson, Nicholas Trist, and the Unknown Connection to Adrien Baillet

By T. Craig Christy.

Published by The International Journal of the Book

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Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

The present study explores the possible influence the library cataloguing system developed by Adrien Baillet (1649–1706) may have had on the organization of Thomas Jefferson’s (1743–1826) library, which became the foundation of the Library of Congress. The plausibility of this line of influence is buttressed by the fact that Jefferson’s grandson-in-law, Nicholas P. Trist (1800–1874), who was also Jefferson’s private secretary and executor of his estate, owned a key volume of Baillet’s important critical work Jugemens des Sçavans sur les Principaux Ouvrages des Auteurs [Judgements of Scholars on the Principal Works of Authors] (1685–86). Trist was also involved in helping Jefferson reconstruct the original organizational scheme of his library, which had not been faithfully maintained after the collection was transferred to the Library of Congress. Another credible line of influence can be traced through the renowned Lamoignon family of Parisian jurists and magistrates, whom Baillet served as librarian, and for whose extensive collection of legal and political books he developed his system to facilitate ready access via thematic cross-referencing. Both during and after his Paris years (1784–1789), Jefferson, himself a passionate bibliophile and collector, counted a descendant of this family, Guillaume de Lamoignon de Malesherbes (1721–1794), among his esteemed friends. As a visitor to Malesherbes’s estate, books and their organization–with respect to epistemological, spatial, and indexing categories–would surely have figured in their conversations, as would, with high probability, Baillet’s cataloguing system, which undergirded the organization of the Lamoignon library.

Keywords: Jefferson’s Library, Thomas Jefferson, Nicholas P. Trist, Adrien Baillet, Malesherbes, Cataloguing, Lamoignon, Library of Congress, George Watterston, René Descartes, Jugemens des Savans, Catalogue Raisonée, Francis Bacon, Alphabetic Subject Headings, Information Management, Information Overload, Alexis de Tocqueville, Diderot, D’Alembert, Encyclopédie, Mr. de la Neuville, Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, Information Integration, Information Retrieval

The International Journal of the Book, Volume 9, Issue 2, pp.51-68. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 1.766MB).

Dr. T. Craig Christy

Professor of German, Linguistics, and International Studies, Chair Department of Foreign Languages, Department of Foreign Languages, University of North Alabama, Florence, Alabama, USA

My principal area of research is in linguistic theory and historiography, with associated interests in semiotics, philosophy, and the history of ideas. I studied linguistics and linguistic historiography under William G. Moulton and Hans Aarsleff at Princeton University (PhD 1980: Germanic Languages and Literatures).

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