Replicating George Washington’s Library: Book by Book

On June 4, 2012 I will be heading to Mount Vernon for the George Washington Book Prize dinner. While I am there, I really hope to get a chance to wonder around a bit, but I am not sure my schedule will allow it.

I would, however, like to learn a lot more about the Fred W. Smith National Library, scheduled to open at Mount Vernon in September 2013.  The $100 million dollar, 45,000 square-foot library will house historical manuscripts, special collections, and the Mount Vernon archives.  Wow!

The library will include a replication of George Washington’s personal library. You can learn more about this project from a recent article in The Washington Post.  Here is a taste:

Mount Vernon has fewer than 50 of the original books and 450 duplicate additions — same book, same printing. The rest will hopefully come from the Boston Athenaeum, through purchases or donations, or they will be replicated with pages scanned from the Athenaeum’s collection and put into an 18th-century-style binding with endpaper and leather and gold tooling.

Libraries have been replicated before “but it’s not been done for Washington because no one would have thought his library was interesting enough to do it,” Rees says. The first president was self-conscious about his lack of formal education. He was self-taught. Though the books will eventually be available digitally, Rees hopes scholars and researchers “will eventually be able to stand in this room and look at the library around him. To learn about his personality and likes and dislikes through what he was reading.” He hopes it will lead to a fuller measure of the man and a deeper feel for history.