Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Washington's Overdue Book

In the spring of 2010, the New York Daily News broke the story that President Washington, during his first year as president, borrowed at least one book from the New York Society Library and never returned it. The volume was The law of nations, or, Principles of the laws of nature, applied to the conduct and affairs of nations and sovereigns, by Emer de Vattel. It seems reasonable that the new chief executive might be interested in such a book, which has an 18th-century title if there ever was one.

Not long after the story broke, jokes were made about massive library fines. Mount Vernon, Washington's effective heir, however, offered to replace the volume, and formally did so in May 2010.

"To observe this auspicious occasion, the Library hosted a ceremony on May 19 at 11 a.m. at which Mount Vernon’s President, James C. Rees, and Librarian, Joan Stahl, presented the errant volume to Charles G. Berry, Chairman of the Library’s Board of Trustees and Mark Bartlett, Head Librarian," noted the New York Society Library in a statement, with no discussion of library fines.

Mount Vernon, as it happens, is in the process of establishing a library of its own: the Fred W. Smith National Library for the Study of George Washington, which will safeguard Washington’s books and manuscripts, serve as a scholarly retreat, create educational outreach programs on Washington, and provide seminars and training programs with a special focus on Washington’s leadership. Construction of the 45,000-square-foot facility began in early 2011, with a completion date in 2013.

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