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A view of part of Jacques Derrida's library in his home in Ris Orangis. Used with permission. © Andrew Bush, 2001

Firestone Library announced last week that it had acquired a collection of over 13,800 books from the personal library of Jacques Derrida, a 20th century French philosopher best known for developing the philosophical concept of deconstruction.

The new acquisition includes an intellectually diverse range of books, with significant holdings in philosophy, literature and the social sciences,David Magier, Associate University Librarian for Collection Development, said.

“These books are in French, English, Italian, German and other languages. They were published in the 20th century, and generally not rare in and of themselves,” Magier said. “What makes them especially important to scholars is that they are in Derrida's personal library and that he left 'traces' of how he read them and integrated them into his thinking, for example, through his annotations.”

Derrida’s working library meets a current interdisciplinary campus interest in "unpacking" a personal library and analyzing it to track the development of an individual’s thinking as well as the role of reading and its connection to writing, Magier explained.

Derrida himself is an exciting subject from whom to have a personal collection, history professor Anthony Grafton said.

“Derrida is one of the most influential writers after World War II with an immense impact," Grafton said. "You can see what interested and influenced him, a prospect very fascinating to researchers."

Students could also find the library of use, Magier added.

“Undergraduates in a seminar on literary criticism could examine books that Harold Bloom and Paul de Man sent to Derrida," he said. "Students in a course on photography might find Derrida's annotations in Barthes' 'La Chambre Claire' as illuminating as Barthes' own analysis, and a graduate student in religion would find ample material for research in Derrida's often extensively annotated collections of works concerning Judaism."

Prior to its acquisition by the University, the library of Jacques Derrida belonged to his widow Marguerite, who had kept his study and his vast collection intact since his death in 2004, Magier said.

Magier declined to comment on the cost of the acquisition.

“A number of scholars eager to preserve this collection and make it broadly accessible for academic research approached us in the library and urged us to explore the possibility of acquiring the collection,” Magier said.

A University librarian, accompanied by a faculty member, visited Derrida’s house outside of Paris to examine the collection, he explained.

“All serious research libraries would be interested in this collection, so acquiring it was a coup for Princeton," he said. "While there were many logistical complexities, the outcome for scholars everywhere is definitely worth it."

The reaction among other scholars outside the University has been overwhelming, Magier added.

“I've seen word of [our acquisition] flying around the world in scholarly blogs, Facebook, Twitter and other social media, and all of that is before we've even finished bringing all the books out of their international shipping crates,” he said.

Students can request access to Derrida’s collection at the Rare Books and Special Collections Department at Firestone Library after the items have been processed, cataloged and preserved. This will be an incremental process, but the books should start to become available in the next few months, Magier said.

The University is also considering the possibility of making digital images of Derrida's annotations for online research, he added.

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