Happy New Year! Here’s a quick preview of January in the Library.


Library services will unfold in two phases as we begin 2021:

  • During the month of January, spaces will remain closed (except for item pickup).
  • For spring semester, which begins in February, we’ll return to the “new normal,” with Brown and Clemons spaces open for studying, item pickup, and more.

""Beginning in January, and continuing through spring semester…

When spring semester begins in February…

Spring services will continue in a very similar fashion to fall 2020. Read more about this “new normal,”  and more updates will be posted here and to the Status Dashboard when our services change.

VRL reaches agreement for new one-year agreement with Elsevier

Six members of the Virginia Research Libraries (VRL) group recently completed contract negotiations with Elsevier, the largest publisher of science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) scholarly journals. Through a new one-year 2021 agreement, the University of Virginia, Virginia Tech, Virginia Commonwealth University, George Mason University, Old Dominion University, William & Mary, and James Madison University libraries addressed their priorities for affordability, accessibility, and equity.

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, Virginia’s research libraries were moving toward a new contract with Elsevier beginning in 2022. Due to the pandemic’s negative effect on operating budgets, the group asked to renegotiate its last year of the current five-year contract. VRL appreciates Elsevier’s willingness to modify the agreement a year early in light of budget needs. The library group will be back at the negotiating table in 2021 to pen a longer-term agreement.

What does this new one-year agreement with Elsevier mean?

Cost savings

Most of the Virginia research libraries involved in the negotiation are experiencing budget shortfalls for 2021 and projecting budget shortfalls for 2022. Each institution involved reduced its overall spend for the year, balancing its COVID-distressed budget for 2021. The new agreement frees the institutions from the “Big Deal” Freedom Collection, allowing for a collection that better suits users’ needs.

This new agreement only includes subscriptions that are consistently used by our constituents. The libraries included titles in the agreement based on download data, article citations by institutional authors, open access availability of articles, articles published by institutional authors, and faculty and library liaison input. The group also analyzed the projected costs of alternative access to those titles. This is part of a longer-term effort to realign investments in favor of tools and resources that are more affordable, equitable, and sustainable. And it allows the libraries to build a more tailored collection from more diverse vendors that better service evolving needs of their universities.


Researchers will continue to have access to everything they need to do their research. Subscriptions are just one mode of access to research, and our libraries are committed to helping researchers navigate alternatives.

The Virginia research libraries are confident that they can meet demand through existing subscriptions, backfile content, open access journals and repositories, and interlibrary loan services including article purchase. Recently, the Virtual Library of Virginia (VIVA) invested in an improved interlibrary loan service for all Virginia public institutions that will decrease turnaround time and lower costs.

In addition to accessing articles, the new Elsevier agreement clarified privacy provisions and broadened the university community’s rights to allow for text and data mining of the scholarly materials.

What’s next?

The Virginia research libraries will be working with other big publishers to take similar steps toward a more sustainable scholarly communications ecosystem in the coming year. They will continue watching how resources are used, including the demand for alternative access, and use that knowledge to inform next year’s negotiations with Elsevier.

Library Graffiti: Drawing Without an Eraser

Through January, we’re publishing year-in-review highlights from FY2020. Download a full PDF of this year’s Annual Report to read more!

Most of the 1.7 million print titles that were taken out of the main library to make way for renovation will come back when the library reopens. And thanks to the students in anthropology professor Lise Dobrin’s “Literacy and Orality” course, a “devalued form” of writing that was literally part of the building will continue to be available after the stacks have been demolished and rebuilt. In spring and summer of 2019, Dobrin’s class
documented graffiti that over the years had been anonymously scribbled on and scratched into the building’s 176 study carrels. With Library support, the students photographed, organized, and cataloged the accumulated writings and donated them to Special Collections where they will be preserved for posterity.

According to Dobrin, the writings represent moments when students, studying in the isolation of the carrels, felt liberated enough to communicate their deepest personal thoughts to other individuals coming to the same space, on topics as varied as academics, politics, poetry, film, music, or just what they were feeling at a given moment — in one carrel it became a sort of tradition to note the date, time, and weather with a comment on the writer’s state of mind.

Scrawling messages on carrels is not unlike writing posts on an anonymous internet forum. And because of the writers’ anonymity, their candid and personal observations provide valuable context for examining University culture. An overtly sexist comment directed toward members of a particular sorority, for instance, might offer insight into gendered bias in the University.

Other writers showed interest in the act of writing itself. One writer, for example, offered a quote from Derek Walcott’s poem “Winding Up”: “Now I require nothing from poetry but true feeling … We can sit watching grey water and in a life awash with mediocrity and trash Live rock-like.” Another statement attributed to American political reformer John W. Gardner, “Life is the art of drawing without an eraser,” appears in a somewhat truncated form in both German and English: “Leben ist zeichnen ohne Radiergummi |
life is drawing w/o an eraser.”

The project has enjoyed enthusiastic support from University Librarian John Unsworth, whose interest was deepened by the work of a former student classifying subgenres of graffiti in the University of Chicago’s Regenstein Library, and by the Pompeii Forum Project led by UVA professor emeritus John Dobbins. To Unsworth, graffiti in the Library is no less a threatened text than graffiti which did not survive volcanic eruption in Pompeii. And now, because of these students’ efforts, the student who wrote, “I’m gonna come back in 10 years & show this to my kids! pls don’t paint over,” need not go away disappointed.

A printed note in ink on a wooden support asks, "And many years down the road, looking back you will ask yourself was it really worth it?" with an bent arrow pointing to a reply, "Was what worth it?"

Example of a note from a student in one generation to students in other future generations — and a reply .

View of study carrel above which are two shelves, the first with many origami figures folded into various shapes.

Origami figures made from study and lecture notes.

Lines in ink, in cursive script, written in brief, slanted lines on the outer edges of a carrel bookshelf.

Quote from poet Derek Walcott’s “Winding Up”: ““Now I require nothing from poetry but true feeling … We can sit watching grey water and in a life awash with mediocrity and trash. Live rock-like.”

Tibetan text written in ink on the outer edge of a carrel bookshelf.

In Tibetan: the date (2017-09-13), name of the work (“The Elegant Sayings of Sakya Paṇḍita”), author (Sakya Pandita Kunga Gyaltsen), and the saying: “Even if one is to die the next morning, today one must study. Though one may not become a sage in this life, Knowledge is safely deposited for future lives, Just as riches safely deposited can later be reclaimed.”

German text printed in ink on the outer edge of a carrel bookshelf: "Leben ist zeichnen ohne Radiergummi", followed by the English equivalent, "life is drawing w/o an eraser".

Text in German of a statement attributed to American political reformer John W. Gardner: “life is drawing w/o an eraser.”

Preserving the Library’s Record of Itself

Through January, we’re publishing year-in-review highlights from FY2020. Download a full PDF of this year’s Annual Report to read more!

Neal Curtis and Samuel Lemley pose next to wooden cabinets of the card catalog in the empty stacks. In the foreground, several drawers of cards have been pulled out where volunteers have been working on them.

Doctoral students Neal Curtis (left) and Samuel Lemley, and two of the 40 cabinets containing the Library’s card catalog, retired when the catalog went online in 1989. Photo by Sanjay Suchak.

To doctoral students Neal Curtis and Samuel Lemley, the millions of index cards housed in 40 massive wooden cabinets on the main library’s fifth floor (comprising the Library catalog before it went online in 1989), served as a valuable resource in their Rotunda Library Online project. The old catalog was “the Library’s record of itself,” a connection with “how the University created and represented knowledge at a given moment in its
history.” Faced with the possibility of losing this piece of University history to the renovation, they began a volunteer project to have all the cards boxed and preserved for future generations of researchers, and are seeking funds to have information from the cards made available eventually through Virgo, the Library’s online catalog.

View of an open card catalog drawer with one card pulled up, showing information (call number, author, title).

Example of a card referring to a book in the “SciTech” Library. Cards would sometimes have notes on which professor recommended the book’s purchase. Photo by Sanjay Suchak.

One reason for preserving this physical record of the Library’s holdings is that not all information survived the transfer to digital form. Since the beginning of the card catalog in 1939, librarians and Library workers sometimes included handwritten notes on the front and back of cards about the provenance of certain volumes — where they came from, who donated them, or the names of professors and the titles they recommended for purchase. President Emeritus John T. Casteen III, who had filed cards in the Library as a student worker, remembers notes in the card catalog about books that came from the collections of Thomas Jefferson and others, some donated to make up for Library losses in the Rotunda fire of 1895.

One of the first drawers examined by Curtis contained a card for an 1804 edition of Benjamin Smith Barton’s “Elements of Botany” signed by Joseph C. Cabell, an early backer and influential promoter of Jefferson’s University. When Curtis found no record of the book in Virgo, he inquired if it were on the shelf in Special Collections. It was. Other than the book itself, the entry in the card catalog was the only remaining record that this piece of Library history existed.

The project received full backing from the Library, which offered expertise in vetting and improving the process by which about 40 student and faculty volunteers packed the cards for storage. University Librarian and Dean of Libraries, John Unsworth, praised the volunteer effort: “The University of Virginia was built around its library, and it has a long and distinguished history of bibliographic scholarship … The fact that this effort to preserve the final state of our (1989) card catalog is being led and organized by raduate students testifies to the continued vitality of that tradition.”

The front of one of the wooden cabinets, showing rows of drawers with metal handles and slots for drawer labels.

Cabinet containing drawers of cards comprising “the Library’s record of itself”. Photo by Sanjay Suchak.


Lost & found: Renovation unearths unexpected discovery

For one final week, we’re publishing year-in-review highlights from FY2020. Download a full PDF of this year’s Annual Report to read more. This week’s theme centers around looking inward as we move onward. Happy New Year, all! 

Early in February of 2020, UVA police officer Tewdros Aftae phoned Lisa Swales to inform her that workmen prepping for the library renovation had discovered her handbag stuffed inside the duct work in the stacks. The purse had been stolen when Swales stepped away from a favorite carrel on floor 1M while researching Civil War history for the Carter G. Woodson Institute for African-American and African Studies. The incident was not unprecedented — it was the second time Swales had had a purse stolen — but she had reported this theft more than a quarter century ago.

A leather purse with stamps, stickers, notes, and photographs

Image courtesy Lisa Swales.

The purse, unchanged for 27 years, had belonged not to the person Swales is now but the person she had been in 1993, before three presidencies and the fall of the twin towers, before remarriage and the birth of her three children.

Swales isn’t sure if there had been money inside the purse, but the well- preserved leather bag held a treasure of ordinary things from a life and place captured in time: a wallet containing photos of her cousins’ young children who are now having babies of their own; an Easter card and Winnie the Pooh stickers she intended to send to them; and a letter from her grandmother after a visit, thanking Swales for the cookies she had baked.

Other artifacts included a UVA Library user’s card with Social Security number as ID; ticket stubs from “Fried Green Tomatoes” and “Aladdin” at the Carmike 6 (which was a new theater then but doesn’t exist today); a 1990 Kennedy Center ticket to the musical “Grand Hotel,” and a ticket to Old Cabell Hall to hear the neo-modern jazz ensemble Either/Orchestra in the WTJU jazz concert series. There were receipts for purchases she made on a recent trip to England, an ACAC fitness club membership, and an appointment reminder from a dentist who had been recommended by the late Armstead Robinson, founding director of the Woodson Institute, for whom Swales was doing research when her bag was taken. Robinson’s recommendation had been a good one — Swales still goes to the same dentist today!

Raffle tickets and two movie ticket stubs from 1992 and 1993.

Image courtesy Lisa Swales.

After her bag was stolen, Swales resumed life as a student, continuing to do research in the library, unaware of how close she was to the purse that would remain untouched for 27 years. She graduated in 1995 with an M.A. in History and continued working at the Woodson Institute until just before her first child was born in 1998. She volunteered and held part-time jobs while raising her kids and continues to teach an exercise class she started teaching in 1991 before attending graduate school.

Swales never expected to see her handbag again and isn’t sure what she’ll do with it. But this unexpected discovery from the library’s forthcoming transformation serves as a wonderful reminder of the fact that moving forward sometimes allows us to connect with our past — occasionally with more clarity than ever.

Edmund Berkeley, Jr. (1937-2020)

We at the Library were saddened to hear of the death on December 29 of Edmund “Ned” Berkeley, Jr., University of Virginia alumnus, emeritus professor at UVA, and former director of the Library’s Special Collections department.

After graduating from the University of the South in Tennessee, Berkeley first came to UVA for graduate work, leaving in 1961 with an MA in American History. After a brief stint teaching in private schools in Virginia and Tennessee, he entered the library profession as an archivist at the Library of Virginia in Richmond and returned to UVA in the mid-sixties to work in the Library’s Special Collections department.

Berkeley held a number of positions in the department, including archivist, assistant curator, and manuscripts curator, before he ultimately became Director of Special Collections and University Archivist. He also served as the University’s records manager, and his many other contributions included the creation of manuals and policies on collection development and processing and his recommendations for a new building to house the University’s special collections — a project eventually realized with the construction of the Mary and David Harrison Institute for American History, Literature, and Culture and the Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library. In 1976 Berkeley was made associate professor in the general faculty, and upon his retirement in 1999 the Board of Visitors elected him Associate Professor Emeritus.

Circular cropped monchrome photo of a balding man with glasses and a beard, wearing a white shirt and dark suit and tie.

Ned Berkeley at UVA in 1986. (Detail from image provided by Linda Lester.)

Berkeley was an energetic contributor to his profession and an engaged member of a number of professional bodies, including the Association of Documentary Editors, the Manuscript Society, the Virginia Historical Society, and the American Association for State and Local History. He was particularly active in the Society of American Archivists, where he edited the Society’s “Autographs and Manuscripts: A Collector’s Manual” and served on both the Council and Executive Committee of the Society. He also routinely published in professional journals relating to the archival profession. His papers reside in the Small Special Collections Library.

Berkeley’s wife Elizabeth also had extensive UVA connections. Elizabeth M. Berkeley (then Elizabeth Makaritis) received her undergraduate degree from UVA’s School of Education, and like her husband went on to earn an MA in American History from the University. She became a distinguished editor of historical works, eventually working out of the UVA Library for the American Council of Learned Societies, editing the correspondence of William James. Elizabeth Berkeley died in April of 2020. While at the Library, the Berkeleys endowed a fund in honor of Ned Berkeley’s parents to benefit the Special Collections department. The Dorothy Smith Berkeley and Edmund Berkeley Natural History Endowed Fund, established in 1994, continues to give back, supporting the acquisition of library materials in natural history and botany.

Berkeley’s obituary can be read here. We are touched by the Berkeley family’s continued devotion to the University Library and its collections, and our thoughts are with them during this trying time.

We are collecting remembrances and anecdotes from current and former Library staff and others who worked with Ned Berkeley. Look for a follow-up soon on Notes from Under Grounds, the blog of the Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library. If you would like to share a memory of Ned, please contact Brenda Gunn, Associate University Librarian for Special Collections and Preservation.


Multi-Year McGregor Digitization Project Concludes

Through January, we’re publishing year-in-review highlights from FY2020. Download a full PDF of this year’s Annual Report to read more!

A Library project to digitize the rarest and most significant titles from the renowned 20,000-volume Tracy W. McGregor Library of American History concluded on Nov. 5, 2019 when John Lawson’s 1709 “A New Voyage to Carolina” became available online in the Library’s catalog. The project, managed by Special Collections curator David Whitesell, began in 2014 with a $245,000 grant from the McGregor Fund and was extended by $70,000 in 2017. The Library Digital Production Group’s high definition scans of 136,067 pages from 547 rare works dating from as early as 1475 (including delicate fold-out maps) are now available for viewing and downloading. Library conservator Sue Donovan performed conservation work on some of the books, whose digital preservation will greatly reduce their physical usage.

Fanciful eighteenth century drawings of indigenous wildlife, including a bison that looks like a wooly domestic cow, a tortoise, a snake twined around another snake, an opossom, a coiled rattlesnake "charming" a squirrel down a tree, a mountain lion upon the back of a deer. a bear eating a fish it caught from a stream, and a racoon baiting a crab with its tail in the water.

Illustration of native fauna from John Lawson’s 1709 “A New Voyage to Carolina,” Tracy W. McGregor Library of American History, the Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library.

Challenging structural racism in collections

Through January, we’re publishing year-in-review highlights from FY2020. Download a full PDF of this year’s Annual Report to read more! This week’s theme involves addressing systemic racism in Library collections. 

Words matter: Challenging bias & structural racism

Librarians, archivists, and cultural heritage professionals are uniquely poised to examine and change structural racism that exists in libraries, archives, library catalogs, and information systems. The Library of Congress (LOC) Subject classification system is a widely adopted classification schema but this system is fraught with bias, racist terminology, and outdated subject headings. During the reorganization of Scholarly Resources & Content Strategy (SRCS) in 2019, Carmelita Pickett, Associate University Librarian for SRCS, tasked the Digital Strategies Team with the investigation and implementation of a strategic framework that could address these current inequities.

Since this directive, the Subject Heading Initiative, led by Jennifer Roper, Jeremy Bartczak, and Whitney Buccicone, has evolved into a co- developed strategic collaboration between the Digital Strategies unit in SRCS and the technical services unit in Special Collections. This initiative was designed to develop a cohesive approach to improve subject access for people of color, indigenous peoples, LGBTQ+, women, and traditionally marginalized communities. This initiative seeks to support the University and UVA Library’s antiracism, inclusion, and diversity efforts.

For many years LOC has collaborated with librarians and catalogers to update and improve subject authority records through the Subject Authority Cooperative Program. These efforts continue today but these modifications do not address the immediate and direct changes that libraries can implement to improve the humanization of marginalized communities. In 2014, a Dartmouth librarian and the Coalition for Immigration Reform and Equality at Dartmouth (CoFIRED) first petitioned the Library of Congress to eliminate ‘illegal alien’ in favor of ‘undocumented immigrant,’ but this two year petition was blocked by Congress. Although Congress opposed this effort some libraries have designed alternative ways to address this systemic issue.

This year the Library’s Subject Enhancement Initiative will focus on people, with a goal of returning humanity to individuals and communities for whom personhood has been stripped in current subject terminology (e.g., Slaves → Enslaved laborers, Illegal aliens → Undocumented immigrants). The terms used in Virgo, the Library catalog, may differ from other university catalogs; however, discoverability will not suffer as a result of this initiative. Project leads recently deployed a staff survey soliciting assistance about specific headings to target. As this effort evolves the Library is committed to working with interested researchers, scholars, and students to develop a reparative taxonomy that will address the inequities that persist in LOC subject headings.

Addressing systemic racism in collections

The Library’s ongoing effort to broaden the diversity of its collections intensified after the 2017 white nationalist demonstrations in Charlottesville. Staff joined with students and faculty to “hack the stacks,” using Virgo’s purchase recommendation feature as a means of expanding Library holdings on a variety of social justice topics. Now the Library has gone deeper, working to address biases in a collections-building process which reflects the systemic racism inherent prevalent throughout society.

In the summer and fall of 2019, the Library’s collections group focused on reviewing titles in African History. They found that faculty checkouts in this subject area have increased over the past decade, but also that some important titles that should have been purchased automatically, within the scope of collections desired by the UVA Library, had been left out of the collection. To meet the needs and interests of scholars and underrepresented communities, the Library now constantly adjusts these “approval plans,” leading to a more inclusive collection on Library shelves. The group also evaluated Library print and electronic collections, revealing gaps in areas the Library needs to strengthen, such as translations of Chinese, Japanese, and Korean literature, research in Afro-Latinx and Indigenous-Latinx studies, black queer feminism, mental illness, and works by authors from diverse backgrounds. An intensive review of reading lists, bibliographies, course content, and holdings of peer universities has led to an increase in titles by underrepresented authors, books published by independent presses, and films, music, databases, journals, and digitized primary sources related to marginalized groups.

Similarly, the collections group revised the Library’s e-books acquisition policy to highlight the commitment to providing e-books that meet the needs for research and instruction while also respecting authors, intellectual property rights, diversity, inclusion, and long term access. Central to this new policy is a renewed commitment to acquiring e-books that comply with accessibility guidelines of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

A list of new content licensed during fiscal year 2020 includes:

  • Caribbean Newspapers, Series 1, 1718-1876: From the American Antiquarian Society
  • Archives of Sexuality & Gender: LGBT History and Culture Since 1940
  • Archive of Sexuality and Gender: Sex and Sexuality, Sixteenth to Twentieth Century
  • LGBTQ+ Source
  • Oxford Bibliographies in Buddhism
  • American Indian Newspapers
  • American Indian Histories and Cultures
  • Colored Conventions Project

See a full list of new Library resources. 

Man and woman in indigenous clothing. Woman holds a baby, all three look directly toward the camera.

“Kiowa Family,” from the Indigenous Peoples of North America resource (Annette Ross Hume Photograph Collection, Wichita State University Libraries)

Week long celebration of Liberation and Freedom / Nau Civil War History Collection

Through January, we’re publishing year-in-review highlights from FY2020. Download a full PDF of this year’s Annual Report to read more!

On March 3, 1865, Union troops arrived in Charlottesville and began a process that eventually liberated over 14,000 enslaved residents of the city and Albemarle County, ushering in the beginnings of emancipation for more than 50% of the area’s inhabitants. In September 2017, the Charlottesville City Council voted unanimously to designate March 3 as Liberation and Freedom Day and in 2019 declared it a city holiday.

In 2020, Liberation and Freedom Day was celebrated for the entire first week of March with panel discussions, a vigil, a street-renaming, concerts, art exhibits, and more, in multiple venues around Charlottesville. The Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library and UVA’s John L. Nau III Center for Civil War History co-hosted “Black Liberation in Civil War Charlottesville,” a talk by Professor Ervin L. Jordan, Jr., Research Archivist for the Library. Jordan spoke about the Library’s collections relevant to the Union occupation of Charlottesville and the start of emancipation. In addition to items from the Small Special Collections Library, items from the new John L. Nau III Civil War History Collection were on display for the first time since the collection was donated by Mr. Nau in 2019. The Nau Collection includes more than 30,000 letters, 250 diaries, and 4,000 images relating to the Civil War.

The John L. Nau III Civil War History Collection

In September of 2019, the College Foundation and the Library hosted an event to celebrate John Nau and his gift of the John L. Nau III Civil War History Collection to the University, a gift combining Nau’s interest in history and the Civil War with his twin passions for preservation and the University of Virginia.

Nau (Col ‘68), a former BOV member and a founder of the College Foundation, is a longtime benefactor to the University. His many notable contributions include a gift for constructing Nau Hall, home of the history department, and a donation to fund the John L. Nau III Center for Civil War History, housed in the same building as the Mary and David Harrison Institute for American History, Literature, and Culture and the Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library.

One of the country’s most significant collections of material relating to the Civil War, the Nau Collection is remarkable for its breadth and depth, containing not only war correspondence, soldiers’ letters, and unpublished images in a number of formats (including the tintypes of unidentified Black Union cavalry soldiers shown on the previous spread), but weapons, uniforms, soldiers’ personal effects, and other artifacts. The collection, already notable for comprising a wide range of both Confederate and Union materials, was augmented when Nau surprised attendees of the event by announcing the addition to the gift of two significant items — a letter from Robert E. Lee to his brother, and a document (shown left) signed by Abraham Lincoln and his entire second cabinet.

Addition of this collection to the Library’s already-significant Civil War holdings enhances the University’s status as a locus for scholarly study of the Civil War as well as a destination for those wishing to engage with the personal stories of soldiers on both sides.

Autographs of the president, vice president, and cabinet, with ornate hand-drawn flags

“Souvenir document of Abraham Lincoln’s second cabinet,” April 1865. John L. Nau III Civil War History Collection

Black and white photograph of Black man in cloak, in military dress

Portrait of an Unidentified African-American Cavalryman, n.d. John L. Nau III Civil War History Collection

Photograph of seated Black man with bugle, in military dress

“Portrait of an Unidentified African-American Cavalry Bugler,” n.d. John L. Nau III Civil War History Collection