Vintage Cameras, Modern Art, and U.Va.’s Secret Gardens: Eight Questions for Penny White

This week we introduce you to another of our wonderful new hires in Special Collections, Penny White, Reference Coordinator, who began her new position this summer. Penny is an Ohio native (Go Browns!) and received her B.A. in Art History from Wright State University in 2009. She came to librarianship after beginning a graduate program in Art Education and Museum Studies at the Ohio State University. Her interest in libraries and public service led her to change majors and transfer to Kent State University, where she received her M.L.I.S. in 2013. While at Kent State, she jumped at the chance to gain experience processing archival collections, working the reference desk, and curating an exhibit as a graduate student in the Special Collections and Archives department. She told us, “I am excited to continue sharing in the Special Collections experience with all of you here at U.Va.” We asked Penny to answer a few questions and she obliged with her customary warmth and humor.

Penny at the reference desk, where you will find her most of the time!

Penny at the reference desk, where you will find her most of the time!

What was your first ever job with books or libraries?

My first ever job with books was as a page in my local public library during high school. I worked in the children’s department, which was tremendous fun!

What was the first thing you collected as a child? What do you collect now? (oh, c’mon, admit it).

I remember having a stamp collection when I was younger, but I don’t believe I was an avid stamp collector. What does stand out from those early years is a memory of my sister Corey and I collecting tiny toys–though now it seems more like hoarding. We had at least two huge tins full of everything from trolls and My Little Pony, to Happy Meal toys and Matchbox race cars.

Now I collect vintage cameras. I did a series of prints using images of Kodak Brownie Junior and Hawkeye cameras, among others, for my screen-printing final project senior year of undergrad. After that, I was hooked. I love the way they look, like art pieces themselves. The evolution of design and technology over time is fascinating.

Hopefully you’ve been roaming Grounds and Charlottesville a bit since your arrival. What’s your favorite new discovery other than Special Collections?

I really love all of the outdoor seating and green space that Central Grounds has to offer. The gardens behind the Pavilions are an excellent place to eat lunch; they have a very serene atmosphere. When I first saw them, they reminded me of Frances Hodgson Burnett’s The Secret Garden.

Name something about Special Collections or U.Va. that is different from what you expected.

I think it can be very nerve-wracking coming to a new place because you do not know what to expect. Your opinions have yet to be formed–how well will you do? what ill the people will be like?–but that is half the fun.


The depth of history here is much more prominent than where I came from. The lingo, too, was unexpected. I was hard pressed at first trying not to use “campus” and “freshman” when referencing the grounds and first-years. But while there have been differences, there have also been a great number of similarities. The University’s drive to share in the learning process is a familiar one as is the great emphasis Special Collections puts on public service.

If you could be locked in any library or museum for a weekend, with the freedom to roam, enjoy, and study to your heart’s content, which one would you choose?

The Tate Modern, hands down! London is probably my favorite city and the Tate Modern inspired my interest in exploring the relationship between museum and community. When the museum was being constructed, the project managers got the community involved with the planning and construction of the building as well as events and programs. All of this contributed to the ongoing Southwark Regeneration program.


Besides, the collections and installations would take weeks to see and fully appreciate!

When you came to interview, we showed you the miniature book collection. If you can remember, tell us what you thought to yourself when you found out we had 14,000 miniature books.

To be honest, my mind was still wrapping itself around the size of the stacks and the sheer size and variety of the overall collection. It wasn’t until I met a patron working with miniatures that I really found them to be amazing. She very excitedly displayed a tiny book, the size of a button. It was much smaller than I would have expected but full of intricate detail. After that, I found myself in awe of the craftsmanship involved in turning out beautiful works in such tiny frames.

 Tell us your go-to Thomas Jefferson quote (if you don’t have one, get one. You’ll need it!).

What really drew me to this position was the fact for Jefferson, learning was a lifelong and shared process. This thought is so befitting a library– what is a library without books?:


“Some of the most agreeable moments of my life have been spent in reading works of imagination.”

Our collections happen to be filled to the brim with history and imagination.

You’ve chosen to work in Public Services, so clearly you like to communicate! Pick one form of communication:

carrier pigeon
other: _____________

Explain your choice:

I have been fortunate to meet people from all over the world through my studies and Facebook allows me to keep in contact with them regularly: following travels, planning get-togethers, sharing photos, and catching up. Facebook has also been a wonderful platform for information sharing, networking with other professionals, and staying abreast of new developments in my areas of interest.

As you can imagine, we are thrilled to have such a culture vulture joining our staff!  Be sure to say hi to Penny next time you’re in the reading room. And stay posted–we’ll be back with a third new-staff welcome post in a few weeks.

Penny didn't know that we had a Brownie manual that is also a miniature book. She was pretty excited.

Penny didn’t know that we had a Brownie manual that is also a miniature book. She was pretty excited.

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