Coming Soon: A New Special Collections Request System!

New flexibility. New look. New procedures.

On Wednesday, May 15, 2019, the Albert & Shirley Small Special Collections Library will launch a new online request and material circulation system.

The Special Collections Request System is an automated request and workflow management software specifically designed for special collections libraries and archives. This new system will improve how researchers register and request materials held by the Small Special Collections Library.

Stay tuned for more information about how our new request system will serve you on Wednesday!

New Exhibition: Jefferson’s Unbuilt Plan for a University Botanical Garden

Our library neighbors—Alderman Library and Clemons Library—were built into the side of a hill sloping down to a sunken grassy area known as Nameless Field. When not too swampy to traverse, Nameless Field is home to the occasional soccer game or Quidditch match, and the recently added beach volleyball courts are popular with U.Va. students. But apart from the small portion now occupied by Alderman and Clemons Libraries, and a service road, U.Va. has yet to designate the site for permanent development.

Actually, that’s not fully accurate. In April 1826, U.Va.’s first Rector, Thomas Jefferson, selected the site as the location for a university botanical garden. Jefferson then tasked U.Va.’s first professor of natural history, John Patten Emmet, with its construction. But neither funds nor laborers could be spared just then from other U.Va. priorities, such as completing the Rotunda and patching its leaky dome. Following Jefferson’s death on July 4, 1826, interest in the botanical garden soon waned. Despite occasional attempts to revive the project—most recently in the early 20th century—it remains unbuilt.

Jefferson had long contemplated a botanical garden for U.Va., and he sought advice from his friend (and frequent Monticello visitor), the Portuguese botanist and diplomat José Francisco Correia da Serra (1750-1823). At Jefferson’s request, probably in July 1820, Correia da Serra drafted a “Plan for a Botanic garden for a public school on the most useful, and less expensive plan.” It was this plan that Jefferson turned to in April 1826 when drafting the specifications for Emmet to follow.

First page of the “Plan for a Botanic garden for a public school,” drafted at Thomas Jefferson’s request by Jose Francisco Correia da Serra ca. 1820. The gift of Joel B. Gardner (Col ’70, Law ’74) (2019-0024)

Jefferson envisioned a four-acre botanical garden—trapezoidal in shape per the site’s awkward boundaries—surrounded by a serpentine brick wall. Inside would be planted approximately 1,500 botanical specimens, carefully selected to serve a range of instructional purposes. Two acres of the sloping hillside above would be turned into a grove planted with specimens of non-native trees.

Conjectural perspective view from within the botanical garden, looking east towards the Rotunda and Anatomical Theater, ca. 1830. Plan by Jenny Jones. From Lily Fox-Bruguiere, “An Uncultivated Legacy: Jefferson’s Botanical Garden at the University of Virginia,” U.Va. Master’s Thesis, 2010 (Masters Arch. Hist. 2010 .F69) (reproduced with permission)

Last October, the original holograph manuscript of Correia da Serra’s plan was generously given by Joel B. Gardner (Col ’70, Law ’74) to the Albert and Shirley small Special Collections Library. In honor of Mr. Gardner’s splendid gift, we have mounted a special exhibition, Jefferson’s Unbuilt Plan for a University Botanical Garden.  On view in our First Floor Gallery through June 29, the exhibition traces through rare books and manuscripts Correia da Serra’s life and botanical activities, his friendship with Jefferson, and Jefferson’s ultimately unsuccessful efforts in his final months to create a botanical garden for U.Va.

Filling in the Gaps of Our History – Archiving Student Life for the Third Century Workshop

This week we are pleased to welcome a guest post by Aasritha S. Natarajan, who is a third year majoring in Biology and Cognitive Science with a minor in History

Imagine being able to document all the works of 900+ CIOs and student organizations regardless of how long they have been on Grounds—documenting the lives of students across centuries, which in turn gives prospective students something to aspire to and something to look forward to being a part of when they join our prestigious community. Unfortunately, only approximately 10% of our student organizations have any archival documentation in the UVA Archives in the Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library. I was curious—why haven’t student organizations archived their records? As part of the UVA Bicentennial-funded Archiving Student Life for the Third Century project, my coworker Jacob Shaw and I began working on outreach to document student life to help expand our collection of records from student organizations, and assess gaps in UVA Archives’ holdings. We soon began to see patterns.

Flyer (1969), Activist Student Organizations records (RG 23/103/1.111). Image by Bethany Anderson.

Why are there so few records from student organizations? One reason could be due to the levels of representation of CIOs and other student groups across Grounds. When I analyzed the data about the UVA Archives’ holdings, I found some interesting patterns in terms of underrepresentation among those student organizations that don’t have records in Special Collections. These groups include minority ethnicity-based CIOs (e.g., the Latinx community, the Asian community, and the African American community), gender-based groups (specifically those that concern women at UVA), and fine arts organizations (e.g., a cappella groups and dance teams), among others. While I cannot entirely say why these groups are underrepresented, I can say that they deserve far more recognition, to say the least.

One reason could be that idea of the word “archive” is misconstrued most of the time. The word “archiving” sounds ancient, obsolete, and inefficient, when it is far from it. In fact, archiving is more relevant than ever, in a world where digital media presents opportunities for one to record their work in social world and, at the same time, to erase their presence whenever one likes. Archiving doesn’t just matter for manuscripts, administrative files, and other physical paper documents; it also matters for digital content and media— that is, DVDs/CDs, social media accounts, websites, online documents, group chats, and audiovisual files. Special Collections staff can help you preserve your digital content as well as your social media content.

So why is it useful, or rather, important, to archive your organization’s records? Well, as I mentioned above, it sets a precedent for future incoming students; students will have something to look up to when they join the CIO or student group of their choice and will be able to have the history of student organizations from multiple perspectives. Furthermore, documenting the aforementioned underrepresented organizations helps represent a far more diverse student body. Archives provide context for how student organizations were run, and how the structure was modified to suit each incoming generation of students. So, without a shadow of a doubt, I highly recommend archiving your organization’s records—in the spirit of our Bicentennial, it helps us imagine what student life could be like for the third century of UVA students.

In the spirit of learning how to archive student organization records, please attend our workshop on April 24th, 5:30 – 6:30pm, where I will be elaborating upon these discrepancies. Jacob and I will be discussing the importance of archiving, and you can learn about donating and preserving your records. Furthermore, you will have the opportunity to hear from students and resident staff from the Albert and Shirley Small Collections Library about how they help preserve the unique history of UVA. Information about this workshop can be found here:

Introducing the Archiving Student Life for the Third Century Project and Workshop

This week we are pleased to welcome a guest post by Jacob Shaw, who is a third year majoring in Economics and Sociology.

I am one of the two archives project assistants for the Archiving Student Life for the Third Century project at the UVA Archives in the Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library. Funded by UVA Bicentennial, the goal of the project is twofold—to document student life both through making past records of student life visible and accessible, and to expand the collection of records from student groups on Grounds today. In regards to the first goal, we have been working on processing new donations, such as records documenting Greek life and organizations like the Jefferson Society, along with reprocessing and rearranging important record groups and collections. To help expand our holdings of contemporary student groups, my coworker Aasritha Natarajan and I have been reaching out to a variety of student groups via email to inform them about the Archives’ initiative, and to see if they are interested in donating their records. To further engage student groups in the archiving process, we will be hosting a workshop in the Rotunda multipurpose room on April 24th, 5:30-6:30 pm, to talk to students about the project, what we do at the UVA Archives, and how they can preserve their records and donate them to the Archives.

Radical Student Union publication, Southern Student Organizing Committee Records, (MSS 11192, Box 13). Image by Bethany Anderson.

While my coworker and I have both worked on the archiving and outreach ends of this project, I have spent most of my time working with documents and records, both processing and reprocessing. The main group of records I have been working with are the Southern Student Organizing Committee records, a large group of documents that has been compiled by several donors.

The Southern Student Organizing Committee (SSOC) records tell a very important and interesting story regarding the Civil Rights Movement, the Vietnam War Era, and issues of domestic economic and social policy all through the lens of student activism, particularly at the University of Virginia. The SSOC was an inter-collegiate organization of students at predominantly white universities in the South whose initial aim was to promote progressive social policy regarding racial equality at their universities. While the group remained true to their aims of racial equality in the era of the Civil Rights Movement, they expanded their activism to anti-Vietnam War efforts, by providing legal information to conscientious objectors of the draft and critiquing a variety of American institutions. Also, the group devoted significant energy to supporting labor movements and pushing back against corporate interests. Looking through the documents, it becomes clear that the SSOC was embedded in an important network of student groups, such as the Students for a Democratic Society and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and their different campus chapters, and taking parts in composite organizations such as the Radical Student Union at the University of Virginia.

Bylaws of the Southern Student Organizing Committee, Southern Student Organizing Committee records (MSS 11192, Box 12). Image by Bethany Anderson.

The importance of the UVA Archives becomes clear when one realizes that the SSOC almost sank into oblivion, at least in terms of their records. According to Gregg L Michel, a UVA graduate student who wrote about student organizing, many of their records were intentionally destroyed after the dissolution of the SSOC. While writing his dissertation on the SSOC he reached out to two UVA alumni who both served as the chairs of the organization (Tom Gardner and Steve Wise), leading to the donation of their records, along with records from other members they knew. The records donated by Gardner and Wise really bring the story of the SSOC to UVA, as these two figures, particularly Gardner, saw the SSOC through the bulk of their Civil Rights and Vietnam activism, along with a variety of projects that incorporated UVA groups beyond just the SSOC, such as the “Virginia Summer Project” and the Radical Student Union.

The writings of Gardner highlight the local aspects of student activism, with essays and memos discussing issues around grounds and critiquing UVA as an institution.

At our upcoming workshop, I will be talking more about the Southern Student Organizing Committee, and leading the participants through an activity using an example of a document from their records. The goal of the activity will be to think about our current university climate through the lens of the SSOC’s documents, thinking about the state of student activism on grounds today, and understanding the role and importance of the Archives in preserving student life.

Participants will also learn about how to preserve and donate their own records and hear from several students and staff from the UVA Library and Special Collections about their projects that relate to preserving history, identity, and student activity!

Thank you for reading and please consider coming to the Rotunda on April 24th at 5:30 pm. You can register and find more information about the workshop here:



Samuel V. Lemley Wins the National Collegiate Book Collecting Contest

Samuel V. Lemley displays his 2018 National Student Book Collecting Contest First Prize certificate.

On Friday, October 19, bibliophiles from around the nation gathered at the Library of Congress for the presentation of the 2018 National Collegiate Book Collecting Contest awards. Established in 2005 to recognize bibliophilic excellence among American college and university students, the annual competition is open to the first place winners of the over 40 collegiate book collecting competitions held nationwide. The national contest is jointly administered by the Antiquarian Booksellers’ Association of America, the Fellowship of American Bibliophilic Societies, the Grolier Club, and the Library of Congress’s Center for the Book and Rare Books and Special Collections Division.

Samuel V. Lemley discusses his collection of Sicilian imprints at the awards ceremony for the 2018 National Student Book Collecting Contest. Seated behind is awards presenter Mark Dimunation, Chief of the Rare Book and Special Collections Division, Library of Congress.

This year’s First Prize winner is U.Va. doctoral candidate in English Samuel V. Lemley, whose entry, Biblioteca Genealogica: Sicilian Printing, 1704-1893, won the 52nd U.Va. Student Book Collecting Contest held earlier this year.  Several U.Va. Contest winners have won national awards in previous years, but Sam is the first to claim the top prize.  In addition to a cash award of $2,500, he will receive a year’s membership in the Grolier Club, the nation’s leading bibliophilic society.  Students from the University of Kansas, Harvard University, and Washington University also received national awards at the awards presentation in the Library of Congress’s Montpelier Room.

Visitors under Grounds may recall seeing highlights from Sam’s collection on display last spring in the First Floor corridor leading to the Special Collections Reading Room.  Special Collections was pleased to honor the winners of the 52nd U.Va. Student Book Collecting Contest–Samuel V. Lemley, James P. Ascher, and Philip M. Tan–by hosting an exhibition drawn from their collections.

The U.Va. Student Book Collecting Contest is one of many activities undertaken by the Bibliographical Society of the University of Virginia.  Watch their website for news of the 53rd U.Va. Student Book Collecting Contest!

On View Now: UVA Health System: 200 Years of Learning, Research, and Care

Over the next five months, the Harrison/Small main gallery is home to the exhibition “UVA Health System: 200 Years of Learning, Research, and Care.” This exhibition explores how trends in U.S. history and the history of the health sciences have shaped the development of the UVA Health System, while examining some of the events and personalities that make UVA’s story unique.

Visitors will view collection highlights from the Claude Moore Health Sciences Library, Eleanor Crowder Bjoring Center for Nursing Historical Inquiry, and the Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library. Among the many items featured are an iron lung used in the UVA Hospital during the mid-20th century. There are bloodletting instruments from the 19th century and a nursing student’s uniform from the 1950s. Visitors can view a digital model of Thomas Jefferson’s Anatomical Theatre and a short film of a surgery being performed at the hospital in 1927.

These and other items help to tell the story of how the Health System grew from a school with a single professor into a world-class academic medical center and regional health-care network. The exhibition also takes a closer look at some specific topics in this 200-year history including medical and nursing education, patient care, biomedical research, wartime service, and racial inequality.

“UVA Health System: 200 Years of Learning, Research, and Care” will be on display in the Main Gallery of Harrison/Small from July 26, 2018 to January 4, 2019. For more information about the exhibition and related programs contact Dan Cavanaugh, Alvin V. and Nancy Baird Curator of Historical Collections at Learn more, view images, and book class and group tours on the exhibition website.

This exhibition was produced with the support of the University of Virginia Bicentennial with funding provided by the Alumni Board of Trustees.


Now on View: “Eminent Miniatures”

If you come by Special Collections this summer, you are in for a bibliographical and visual feast! Our new exhibition, “Eminent Miniatures: from the McGehee Miniature Book Collection” features tiny books and huge photographs.

The exhibition is in the First Floor Gallery of Harrison/Small, just outside the Special Collections reading room.

Collector Caroline Brandt has spent most of her life building a collection of 15,000 miniature books, which now resides in the Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library. From these, she has chosen volumes that reveal the little-known forays of prominent book producers into the realm of the miniature. In this exhibition, you will see that when great printers, binders, and publishers decide to make miniature books, the results are stunning. These are works of exquisite craft, structural diversity, and outsized beauty. The exhibition has been mounted in conjunction with the upcoming Grand Conclave of the Miniature Book Society, which will be held in Charlottesville in August. The exhibition runs through August 26. Don’t miss it!

The exhibition opens with some of our greatest miniature treasures from early presses such as Plantin and Jannon.

In this section dedicated to Publishers, large images of landmark nineteenth-century Italian miniatures loom over a selection of Oxford University Press publications, including religious volumes and children’s books.

The exhibition features the miniature output of a number of small presses, some of which are on view in this case.

Miniature books require that fine binders exercise their skills in new ways to ensure that small volumes open and close smoothly. Despite the additional challenges, some art binders have embraced the miniature.

Miniature books come in a dazzling array of structures. In many cases, the diminutive size and light weight of the books means that it is possible to display accordions and other formats open.

Oversized images are near the books they represent, allowing visitors to view and appreciate their artistry with rare immediacy.

Overview of the first half of the exhibition.

Overview of the second half of the exhibition.

Thanks to the talented Shane Lin for his elegant photographs of miniature books, which form the backdrop of the exhibition cases shown here.

Please share!



How Borges Wrote: Symposium on the Creative Process of Jorge Luis Borges

Please join us on Tuesday, April 24, 2018, at 4:00 pm in the auditorium of the Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library for a special event marking the publication of an important new book on the great Argentine writer Jorge Luis Borges. The event is free and open to the public.

Cover of Daniel Balderston’s “How Borges Wrote” (University of Virginia Press, 2018)

This month the University of Virginia Press is publishing How Borges Wrote, a monograph by Daniel Balderston, Director of the Borges Center and Andrew W. Mellon Professor of Modern Languages at the University of Pittsburgh. Drawing on nearly four decades of research into Borges’s life and writings, and having examined nearly 200 of Borges’s surviving literary manuscripts, Balderston carefully explicates the complex process by which Borges composed and revised the short stories, essays, and poems that brought him worldwide fame.

Daniel Balderston

“How Borges Wrote” will feature presentations by Balderston and three other Borges scholars: Jared Loewenstein (founding curator of U.Va.’s Borges Collection), Nora Benedict (Princeton University), and María Laura Bocaz (University of Mary Washington).

The Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library holds one of the world’s best collections relating to Jorge Luis Borges, numbering over 1,100 printed works and including the largest holding of Borges manuscripts outside of Argentina. The collection was a major resource for Balderston while researching his book. Highlights from U.Va.’s Borges manuscript holdings will be on display during the event.

52nd U.Va. Student Book Collecting Contest Winners

First prize winner Samuel V. Lemley with selections (top shelf) from his collection of Sicilian printing.

Winners of the 52nd U.Va. Student Book Collecting Contest were announced at the Bibliographical Society of the University of Virginia’s annual meeting on Friday, March 23, 2018 in the Auditorium of the Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library. The competition, sponsored by the Bibliographical Society, is a tradition dating back to 1948. It offers all U.Va. students a chance to showcase their personal book collections, and to win substantial cash prizes as well. Highlights from the winners’ collections were exhibited in our first floor exhibition gallery.

A closeup of two mid-19th century Sicilian imprints.

First prize was awarded to Samuel V. Lemley, a Ph.D candidate in the Dept.of English, for “Biblioteca Genealogica: Sicilian Printing, 1704-1893.”  Lemley’s collection “offers a representative sample of Sicilian printing and ephemera from the 18th and 19th centuries, a period in which my maternal ancestors lived in the Sicilian provinces of Palermo and Agrigento. The chronological limits, 1704 to 1893, reflect the years for which genealogical records (births, baptisms, and deaths) for the Militello and Marchese families survive: Gabriele Militello, my earliest documented ancestor, was born in Bivona in 1704; my great-grandfather, Pietro Marchese, was born in Pollina in 1893. These are the genetic bookends of my Sicilian family tree and the figurative bookends of this collection.” Lemley will represent U.Va. in this year’s National Collegiate Book Collecting Contest.

James P. Ascher, second prize winner, with selections (bottom shelf) from his collection of annotated editions of Samuel Butler’s Hudibras.

Second prize went to James P. Ascher, a Ph.D candidate in the Dept. of English, for “Annotations to Samuel Butler’s Hudibras 1678-1858.”  Ascher notes: “Samuel Butler rose to international notice when he published the first part of Hudibras in 1662. Set during the Civil War of the 1640s, the poem weaves together his years spent in libraries transcribing into his commonplace books, with satires on hypocrites, Romances, and pointless conflict. This topic must have appealed to readers during the Restoration, but thirty years after the Civil War, the allusions to current events were no longer current, so Butler added annotations to a new edition of 1674. These annotations explained topical references, demonstrated the learned depth of his commonplace reading, and—in many cases—added to the joke. The annotated poem invited future editors to add comments that explain, enhance, and enchant. This is a collection of the available primary evidence for the publishing of these annotations: the books themselves.”

The 1684 and 1744 annotated editions of Samuel Butler’s Hudibras.

Honorable mention was awarded to Philip M. Tan, a fifth-year doctoral student in the Dept. of Biomedical Engineering, for “Singing Through 500 Years of Reformed and Presbyterian Psalters.”  Tan comments: “Unlike most books, meant to be merely read and contemplated, psalters are the gear for an intense athletic activity—singing! In a tradition extending over three millennia, Jews and Christians have united mind, body, and soul to sing these ancient Hebrew compositions, a practice my friends and I continue today. I grew up in small reformed Presbyterian congregations where the 150 psalms were sung from the 1973 RPCNA Book of Psalms for Singing, but we were always discovering new arrangements and adding them to our repertoire. Eventually I began purchasing other psalters, or begging the more obscure ones off of church music directors in the course of travels. Although the collection primarily comprises reformed Presbyterian metrical psalters originating from the Scottish and Dutch traditions, I am eager to expand its scope to encompass the rich heritage of psalm chanting within the Anglican, Roman Catholic, and Eastern Orthodox traditions.”

Philip M. Tan with selections from his collection of psalters.

Researcher Alert: Flat Files Will Close for Move in April

Some large, flat special collections materials will be UNAVAILABLE beginning April 2, 2018 for the installation of new flat file storage. We do not have a set end-date for the project, but researchers should expect that items stored in our flat files will remain unavailable through the summer.

Q: Why is this happening?

A: We are replacing our old flat file storage with moveable carriages that will allow us to double capacity. Because our building has no onsite swing space, existing files need to be moved offsite so we can install the new system.

Stacks manager Joseph Azizi standing near some of our current flat files. Notice that behind Joseph is a black strip in the concrete. This is a rail for a moveable flat file carriage. These rails were installed when the building was built in 2004 with the expectation that we would eventually get moveable flat file storage. Needless to say, we are ready!

This is a moveable file system similar to the one we are installing. The only difference is that ours will move automatically, rather than manually. Not only does the compact structure allow more rows, but we can store additional collection materials above the flat files. Double efficiency!

Q: What collection items are impacted?

A: Flat files are used to store many of our largest items, including some maps, posters, large broadsides, genealogical charts, galleys, panoramic photographs, and architectural drawings.

Q. Can I request items to be retrieved from their temporary location during this process?

A. Unfortunately, no. All items will be stored offsite in a manner that renders them impossible to access until they are placed in the new drawers.

Q: How do I know whether the item I need is stored in the flat files?

A: If you are planning a visit to study items that you believe may be stored in flat files, we can help you determine whether that is the case. Please submit a reference request with a list of the items, and a staff member will inform you of the status of the materials you are hoping to view. Due to legacy metadata formats used for many items stored in the flat files, we are unable to show the status of most flat file materials in Virgo.

Q: Are the items digitized? Can I see images in place of originals?

A. Some items are digitized and their images are visible in the item’s Virgo record. Many items are not yet digitized. If you are unable to come back to visit the library in person after the flat files are reopened, please submit a digitization request. As soon as we have access to the flat files again, we can begin filling these requests.

Q: Why can’t you provide an exact end date for this project?

A: This is a once-in-a-lifetime project, so we are expecting the unexpected. If all goes smoothly, we hope to announce in mid-July that the new flat files are open to researchers. But just in case, researchers should not expect materials to be available until late August.

We thank you in advance for your understanding as we undertake this crucial collection-maintenance project. It will allow us to continue to add to our oversize collections. And it will also allow us to continue to provide you with one of our proudest services: delivering the flat items you request within just a few minutes of your request!

If you have any questions about the flat file project, please submit a reference request.