Library boosters and student leaders partner for book sale fundraiser

VCU Libraries' inaugural spring book sale with new student leaders as partners was a success.

VCU Libraries’ inaugural spring book sale with new student leaders as partners was a success.

For many years, the Friends of VCU Libraries has held an annual book sale to raise funds to support library programs. The annual fall sale was not held in 2014 and 2015 during construction of the new Cabell Library.

During the hiatus, the development office and the book sale committee evaluated the sale and decided that it, like the building itself, was due for a makeover.

While the book sale has been a steady source of income for Friends of VCU Libraries programming, it also requires an investment of hundreds of hours of staff and volunteer time to organize and manage the sale. “Nationwide, lots of libraries hold book sales. Generally, as a fundraising tool, they’re not terribly efficient. They’re hard, dusty work and they demand lots of staff and volunteer time,” said Kelly Gotschalk, director of development and major gifts for VCU Libraries.

“Their greatest value is in their community service and community engagement aspects. People rally around the sale and like to help. For book lovers, it’s the ultimate reuse-recycle shopping experience and you can buy wonderful books for very little money.”

How could VCU’s book sale move to the next level in its community service and be better managed in the future? The answer Gotschalk arrived at: Tap into VCU’s deep student talent pool.

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Oral history project tells story of African-American schools in Goochland County

Photos by Cris Silvent, John Tyler Community College

Photos by Cris Silvent, John Tyler Community College

A new oral history project led by researchers at Virginia Commonwealth University and John Tyler Community College explores the experiences of former students of Goochland County’s Rosenwald Schools, which were among the nearly 5,000 built throughout the South in the early 20th century to educate African-American children.

The Goochland County Rosenwald Schools Oral History Project features 19 video interviews with 18 participants, fully searchable transcripts and tape logs, photographs of the schools and various related documents.

The project is a joint venture by Brian Daugherity, Ph.D., assistant professor in VCU’s Department of History in the College of Humanities and Sciences, and Alyce Miller, Ph.D., associate professor of history and chair of Department of Humanities and Social Sciences at JTCC, in partnership with VCU Libraries, which is hosting the digital collection.

“It’s important to understand the Rosenwald Schools because they were a catalyst, along with local activism and pressure, for improving educational opportunities available for African-Americans in the South in the early 20th century,” Daugherity said. “Southern school funding disproportionately benefited the education of white schoolchildren, so black activism and support for Rosenwald Schools was an important corrective to the injustices and inequities of that time.”

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Jack Spiro to deliver his final Brown-Lyons Lecture at VCU

Jack D. Spiro, D.H.L., Ed.D.

Jack D. Spiro, D.H.L., Ed.D.

Jack D. Spiro, D.H.L., Ed.D., the Harry Lyons Distinguished Chair in Judaic Culture at Virginia Commonwealth University and director of the VCU Center for Judaic Studies, will deliver his final Brown-Lyons Lecture.

For more than three decades, Spiro has either planned or delivered the annual thought-provoking lecture on topics in the Jewish culture and faith. The 2016 lecture will be held on March 15, from 7:30 to 9 p.m. at James Branch Cabell Library, Lecture Hall (room 303). A public Q&A and reception will follow.

Spiro’s final Brown-Lyons talk, “And the Prophetic Message Lives On…” will be devoted to exploring the world of Judaism — and the world itself — through the lens of the Hebrew prophets, examining the enduring values they espoused and highlighting the commitment of their lives, in word and deed, to the inseparable bond between justice and compassion.

“I have saved ‘the best for last’ (not that I necessarily planned 31 lectures that way!)” Spiro said. “What I mean is that nothing has molded my work as a rabbi, social activist, educator [and] professor more than the prophets. Their message is the quintessence of what it means to be human; to live in a civil, caring, responsible society. I hope to convey that message in my final lecture. What’s ‘at the end’ is also ‘what’s at the beginning.’”

Spiro, who himself has delivered the lecture every year since 1999, said he has sought to make the Brown-Lyons series relevant to both the Richmond and VCU communities.

“Given all the cooperation I have received from a very generous library staff under the remarkable leadership of [VCU Librarian] John Ulmschneider, I hope the lectures have made a mark on the town-gown relationship,” he said. “The audience has been primarily members of the Richmond community and beyond — the lectures consistently geared to such a wider audience. But I have also tried to make the lectures attractive for students.”

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From the archives

A sampling of excerpts from the university’s archives provides a window into the African-American experience at VCU and its predecessors.


While Black History Month has its roots in 1926, when historian Carter G. Woodson started Negro History Week, it first expanded to a month-long celebration on a college campus. Black United Students, a student organization at Kent State University, proposed the expansion and in 1970 was the first to celebrate Black History Month. In 1976, it was officially recognized by President Gerald R. Ford.

As colleges across the U.S. continue the tradition of paying tribute to the achievements and contributions of African-Americans this month, there is much to be learned from taking an introspective look at the African-American experience at Virginia Commonwealth University and its predecessor schools.

VCU Libraries’ Special Collections and Archives offer a wealth of information and resources on a wide range of topics, including an impressive amount of archival material chronicling the university’s history. Student newspapers, yearbooks, oral histories, books on the university’s history and other primary sources can be accessed anytime as part of VCU Libraries’ Digital Collections. The excerpts below relating to the African-American experience are just a small portion of the resources available in the collection, and the VCU community is encouraged to explore them to learn more at

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First all-black comic book added to VCU Libraries’ Comic Arts Collection


All-Negro Comics No. 1 was the first comic book written and drawn exclusively by African-American comics creators.

VCU Libraries has acquired an extremely rare copy of All-Negro Comics No. 1, the first comic book written and drawn solely by African-American writers and artists.

“It’s one of the holy grails of comics,” said Cindy Jackson (B.S.’93/B; B.A.’01/H&S; M.A.’05/H&S), library specialist for comic arts, who oversees VCU Libraries’ Comic Arts Collection, which has roughly 175,000 items, including more than 125,000 comic books. “It is so important to the history of comics. I’ve been in this job for 20 years and I never thought I’d ever hold one of these in my hands. And now we have one in the collection for researchers to use.”

All-Negro Comics No. 1 is a 48-page anthology comic published in June 1947 and remembered not only for being the first comic by African-American creators, but also for its positive portrayal of African-American characters — such as detective Ace Harlem and Lion Man, a college-educated, scientist superhero — in an era in which most African-American comic book characters were racist caricatures.

“It’s the first time you see respectful treatment of African-American characters,” Jackson said. “It is a time capsule. It is a very of-the-1940s comic, but it shows the African-American characters doing things that previously had only ever been done by white characters — things like solving mysteries and being the hero, not the sidekick.”

All-Negro Comics was published by Philadelphia newspaper reporter Orrin C. Evans along with two partners. Evans, who died in 1971, was inducted into the Will Eisner Award Hall of Fame in 2014.

Tom De Haven, a creative writing professor in the Department of English in the College of Humanities and Sciences and the author of “It’s Superman!” and “Derby Dugan’s Depression Funnies,” among other novels and graphic novels, said that All-Negro Comics No. 1 is “one of the very rarest of the rare.”

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New ‘Workshop’ offers 3-D printing, a laser cutter, sewing machines, a 4K video studio and one really, really big video screen


Natalie DeMenthon, a junior communication arts and computer science student, loves making costumes, particularly ones inspired by video games. So when VCU Libraries’ new innovative media center opened its doors recently, she decided to try out one of its 3-D printers to fabricate a cosplay prop.

“I used one of the 3-D printers to make a plaster splicer mask from ‘Bioshock,’” said DeMenthon, as she operated a sewing machine in the center’s makerspace. “The pattern was available for free online, so I was like ‘Yes! I’ve got to try this.’”

DeMenthon is an innovative media student assistant who works in the Innovative Media Department’s new center, called The Workshop, located on the lower level of James Branch Cabell Library and built as part of VCU Libraries’ $50.8 million expansion and renovation.

The Workshop offers a comprehensive variety of multimedia resources and services, including a 4K video studio, loanable media equipment, an array of video editing and graphic design stations, an audio studio, a video game lounge with six gaming consoles, and a makerspace featuring 3-D printers, a laser cutter, sewing machines, a computerized tabletop router and much more.

“We support any kind of hands-on creation, both digital and analog,” said Eric Johnson, head of innovative media for VCU Libraries. “It’s not just about having fun — though that’s a really good way to learn — it’s about enabling people to create objects that are important to them. It’s about providing tools and expertise to support the scholarly exploration of what I sometimes call ‘multimedia and matter.’”

The Workshop is open to all VCU students, faculty and staff, and it’s aiming to be accessible to both beginners and more experienced users.

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Black History Month at VCU aims to spark dialogue, celebrate black excellence

Keith Knight

Keith Knight

Virginia Commonwealth University will celebrate Black History Month with a variety of events throughout February that are meant to provoke thought and conversation.

“I am truly excited for this year’s Black History Month events and the dialogue that may come as a byproduct of these programs,” said Yolanda Avent, director of the Office of Multicultural Student Affairs in the Division of Student Affairs, which coordinates VCU’s Black History Month activities. “We have a month full of thought-provoking educational and social programs designed to engage and celebrate black excellence.”

All of the events will be free and open to the public, though registration may be required for certain events.

Political cartoonist Keith Knight will deliver the 14th annual VCU Libraries Black History Month Lecture, titled, “They Shoot Black People, Don’t They? From Ferguson to NYC, Political Cartoonist Keith Knight on Police Violence in the U.S.” He will speak on Feb. 4 from 7 to 9 p.m. in the Lecture Hall (room 303) of James Branch Cabell Library.

Knight is known for creating funny, politically astute comics strips that touch on many divisive issues, including racially motivated police violence. His talk will be followed by a book sale and signing, as well as a public reception.

“Keith Knight is a cartoonist for the modern age who deftly uses his humor to address often divisive political, social and racial issues,” said Cindy Jackson, library specialist for comic arts with VCU Libraries, which is sponsoring the lecture. “His comics will make you laugh, but most importantly they will make you think.”

For more details or to register for Knight’s lecture, go to

Get the full list of Black History Month activities at VCU.

Cabell Foundation awards $1M challenge grant to bolster VCU’s new library


The new James Branch Cabell Library

The Cabell Foundation, known for its strategic and generous support throughout Richmond and Virginia, has awarded a $1 million challenge grant to VCU Libraries. Money raised will assist VCU Libraries in fully outfitting and equipping the new James Branch Cabell Library, as well as provide funding for future needs.

The grant challenges VCU Libraries to raise $1 million in new gifts and pledges by June 30, 2017. When VCU Libraries reaches that goal, the foundation will commit $1 million, bringing the total raised to $2 million for the new library. Half of the funds raised will support the New Building Fund, which will outfit and equip the new library with the kind of furnishings and equipment not provided by state funds, and will help VCU realize the full promise of this extraordinary new space for students. The other half of the funds will create a permanent Library of the Future Fund, an endowment earmarked to continually update technology in the building and to replace worn-out, broken and outdated furniture.

“The Cabell Foundation is such a tremendous friend and partner of VCU. Their visionary support over many years has forever impacted the university, and for this, we are most grateful,” said VCU President Michael Rao, Ph.D. “This challenge grant will provide support to each and every VCU student and faculty and staff member through the investment in the VCU Libraries.”

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Digital map shows spread of KKK across United States like ‘a contagion’

Each red dot represents a local Klan chapter, known as a Klavern, that spread across the country between 1915 and 1940.

Each red dot represents a local Klan chapter, known as a Klavern, that spread across the country between 1915 and 1940.

A joint project between a Virginia Commonwealth University history professor and VCU Libraries shows for the first time how the Ku Klux Klan spread across the United States between 1915 and 1940, establishing chapters in all 50 states with an estimated membership of between 2 million and 8 million.

The project, “Mapping the Second Ku Klux Klan, 1915-1940,” is an animated, online map that illustrates the rise of the second Klan, which was founded in Atlanta in 1915 and spread rapidly across the country to total more than 2,000 local units, known as Klaverns.

“The project is using technology to demonstrate, and make available for people to contemplate, the nationwide spread of the Ku Klux Klan,” said John Kneebone, Ph.D., associate professor and chair of the Department of History in the College of Humanities and Sciences. “This map shows that you can’t just say ‘Oh, it was those crazy people in the South.’ The [KKK] was in the mainstream.”

The map, he said, invites the viewer to learn about the Klan in their own area, and to reflect on how the Klan’s vile message of racism, anti-Semitism and anti-Catholicism appealed to so many millions of Americans.

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VCU community to help transcribe 17th-century manuscripts for Folger Shakespeare Library

An image from one of the manuscripts - Folger Shakespeare Library V.a.103, fol. 3v - that will be transcribed at the upcoming “transcribathon.” It contains an epigraph written for Shakespeare.

An image from one of the manuscripts – Folger Shakespeare Library V.a.103, fol. 3v – that will be transcribed at the upcoming “transcribathon.” It contains an epigraph written for Shakespeare.

The Virginia Commonwealth University community is invited to take part in a “transcribathon” at which they will transcribe and encode two 17th-century manuscripts from the collection of the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, D.C.

The event is part of the Folger Shakespeare Library’s ongoing Early Modern Manuscripts Online project that aims to provide scholars and the public with convenient online access to transcriptions, images and metadata for a variety of one-of-a-kind English manuscripts from the 16th and 17th centuries, including letters, diaries, wills, coats of arms, literary pieces, recipe books and more.

“The purpose of this kind of activity is to make difficult-to-read manuscripts accessible to and searchable by scholars, teachers and students,” said co-organizer Claire Bourne, Ph.D., an assistant professor in the Department of English in the College of Humanities and Sciences. “The work of those participating in the VCU transcribathon will be in the service of future scholarship and learning.”

The transcribathon will be held Nov. 13 from noon to 4 p.m. in the second-floor Multipurpose Room of James Branch Cabell Library. The event is free and open to the public. No prior experience with paleography, which is the study of historical handwriting, is required.

The event is sponsored by VCU Libraries, the Department of English, the Humanities Research Center and the Folger Shakespeare Library.

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