Guest post by Jackie Morrogh. Jackie is a graduating fourth-year English major, four-year co-chair of the Library Council, and student representative on the University Libraries Committee. We can’t thank Jackie enough for her enthusiastic support of the Library, and we’re happy to report that she’ll be back in the Library next year, working on the Book Traces @ UVA project and pursuing a Master’s degree.
In my application essay to the University of Virginia I wrote, “When you open a book, you are opening a world of possibilities, venturing into the unknown, armed only with a text, a light source, and a bookmark.” In my time at UVA I have discovered that this is not quite true. We do not venture into the unknown here at UVA: we are guided by our librarians.
“Why do libraries matter?” This question was first posed to me in the fall of 2012. I was a first year—new to the University and unaware of the importance of a college library system, and I was taking a class that endeavored to answer that very question. “Why Libraries Matter” was the College Advising Seminar that I had every Wednesday with professor Andrew Stauffer, and from that simple one credit class I learned so much about the importance of libraries to not only UVA, but to me as an actively learning mind.
At the focal point of Mr. Jefferson’s University was a library—the Rotunda—rather than a church, which was revolutionary in the early 1800s. Mr. Jefferson was an avid reader; in a letter to John Adams, he said, “I cannot live without books.” In his time, a library was a place to store those books, to be accessed at any time in order to expand the limits of the human mind. While the library still serves that purpose, it has become so much more.
The list of resources available to students through the libraries is virtually endless. Are you writing a paper on Faulkner’s Absalom, Absalom!? You can check all the copies out of Alderman and perform manual collation on a Hinman collator in Special Collections. You can listen to Faulkner answer common questions in recordings available online, or view his actual handwritten notes in Special Collections. You can create a digital map of the characters’ movements with the help of the Scholars’ Lab and Neatline. Do you want to watch a 3D printer in action? You can do that in the Scholars’ Lab in Alderman Library as well. If you just discovered that your roommate has never seen Mean Girls you can check it out of Clemons and watch it in the comfort of your dorm. Are you looking for the copy of Corks & Curls with a previously unpublished poem by Edgar Allan Poe? It’s right in 2M New Stacks of Alderman (and in Virgo-ed.).
And that is only the tip of the iceberg. In my time at UVA I have seen Thomas Jefferson’s own copy of Notes on Virginia, annotated by him. I’ve watched a conference happen on the third floor of Clemons through video conference technology because the two rooms of people are hundreds of miles away from each other. I’ve studied the watermark on a copy of the Declaration of Independence using a paper thin backlight. The libraries at UVA bring the fascinating relics of the past to meet the rapidly advancing technologies of the future in constantly new and engaging ways. For most students upon graduation, the only complaint about the libraries is that they didn’t use them enough.
I know that I probably should be paying rent given how much time I spend in Clemons. For most students, the libraries as a space are a place for social interaction and focused work. There’s something about being surrounded entirely by books that makes me want to get down to work and write my paper now instead of later. At the same time, I can always take a break and grab coffee at Greenberry’s on the fourth floor of Alderman, where I’ll undoubtedly run into a few friends.
For me, the libraries have been a haven—something I cared about and was able to teach my friends about. My first year, I had a lot of trouble getting involved in extracurricular activities. I was thrown out of the small pond of my high school into the ocean of college filled with incredibly talented people. I had been discussing my difficulties getting involved with professor Stauffer, my advisor and COLA instructor. He told me about a group called “Library Council” that needed some help tabling in the next week . Overwhelmed by all of my free time, I was quick to agree to help. Early the next week, I proceeded to Alderman Library for only the third time in my life, and I went into my first Library Council meeting.
As I sat and heard updates from Karin Wittenborg, the University Librarian, and learned of different events planned for that semester, I was thrilled. At that point in time, Library Council had just made the shift to a student-run committee—there was no student leadership. By the time I left the meeting, I had volunteered to be the co-chair of the council and had gotten a t-shirt with the separated V and the word “Library” on the back. I was overjoyed.
In the months to come I played a role in getting hand dryers installed in the Brown Science and Engineering Library, where paper towels used to overflow from the trash bins, and I attended a lecture given by the esteemed director of the Rare Book School, Professor Michael Suarez. I was making a difference and I was learning, too. But it wasn’t until finals rolled around that my friends began to appreciate what I was spending every moment of my free time working on.
I had learned through Library Council that it was possible to reserve library rooms for study groups. A month before finals, I worked out a schedule where I would have three rooms reserved for three hours at a time in Alderman, Brown, and Clemons. First, we would have the Think Tank in Alderman until it closed at 5. Next, from 6:30–9:30 (after a dinner break) we could study the evening away in Brown. Finally, from 10–1, we would venture to Clemons for some late night studying, almost always involving a pizza order or two. I had downloaded a Yule log app onto my computer, and I was able to check out an HDMI cord from the front desk of the library and hook my computer up to the screens in the rooms. It put us in the holiday spirit and we passed around peppermint bark to ease the stress of finals.
It is always exciting for me when I overhear a friend worrying about a paper or realizing that they don’t have the book they need for a class the next day. I always know how to help them—ask a Librarian. I owe much of my academic success to the combination of resources and space that the libraries have given me, and I have found that the best way I can give back is by being of service to the Library itself on Library Council. After four years as co-chair, I can say that I am as excited about the libraries as I was from day one.
The libraries have become even more than just a place to study—Alderman has become my place of work. Professor Stauffer continues to teach me why libraries matter through my work as a statistician on the “Book Traces @ UVA” research project. The project seeks to identify signs of past readers in library books, such as marginalia, inscriptions, and insertions. We’ve found everything from a newspaper article published the day Henry Wadsworth Longfellow died to a lock of hair, tucked away in a 19th century romance novel. My role is analyzing the data we’ve culled from over 90,000 books so far. Upon discovering that approximately 13% of books have an intervention of interest, I’ve become more engaged than ever with the books on the shelves.
Next year I will stay at UVA to pursue a one-year Master’s Degree in English. I will be living on the historic Range, only a few doors down from where Edgar Allan Poe used to live. All that time ago, I signed up for “Why Libraries Matter” on a whim because I just loved books. In studying English I will continue to dive deeper into that passion, and I hope to someday work in a field where I can be a part of the ever-evolving bridge between reader and text. Mostly, I intend to read as much as I can. There’s always more to learn and, like Thomas Jefferson, I believe in the illimitable freedom of the human mind. I intend “to explore and to expose every subject susceptible of its contemplation.” The Library has given me the key to do just that, and for that I am eternally grateful.