A highly competitive national competition, the New Landmark Library Award considered academic libraries where building projects were completed between 2012 and 2015. Five winners, including Cabell Library, were chosen by a panel of judges with knowledge of both libraries and architecture. The redesigned Cabell Library opened in December 2015.
Two digitized photographs and a digitized postcard from VCU Libraries’ Special Collections and Archives will be featured in inaugural exhibitions at the National Museum of African American History and Culture, which is slated to open Sept. 24 on the National Mall in Washington, D.C.
Between 1968 and 1971, Richmond environmentalist and James River advocate Newton Ancarrow snapped thousands of photographs of wildflowers, documenting more than 400 species, as he walked along the banks of the James, searching for evidence of illegal sewage dumping into the river.
Ancarrow, who is perhaps best remembered today for his namesake, the James River Park System’s easternmost waterfront park area and boat launch, Ancarrow’s Landing, used his wildflower photos as part of a slideshow presentation he gave to Richmond garden clubs, women’s groups and civic organizations as part of his efforts to drum up community support for a cleaner James River.
The 354 wildflower photographs in that presentation, titled “Flower Show No. 2,” have been digitized by VCU Libraries and are being shared publicly for the first as an online digital collection, the Ancarrow Wildflower Digital Archive.
“These slides are special because they’re a snapshot in time at the very early beginnings of the James River Park System — before, during and maybe even a little bit after it was created,” said Anne Wright, director of outreach education for the VCU Rice Rivers Center and an assistant professor in the Department of Biology in the College of Humanities and Sciences. “So, as a time capsule, they’re very interesting.”
Virginia Commonwealth University’s James Branch Cabell Library is poised to debut its newly installed 400-square-foot outdoor screen that will showcase art, animation, video and information about scholarly work from throughout the VCU community.
The screen, which overlooks the Compass, is 21 feet wide by 24 feet tall, and is located above the main entrance of Cabell Library, which recently wrapped up a major expansion and renovation that added 93,000 square feet of new construction and 63,000 square feet of improvements to the existing Monroe Park Campus library.
The screen has been installed with the hope to intrigue, inspire and inform the tens of thousands of VCU community members who pass by daily.
The stacks of books in Julian Neuhauser’s office in James Branch Cabell Library are very old and very rare. There is a tiny book, dating back to 1709, that is bound with tortoise shell. There is an early goatskin-bound copy of “A Dictionary of the English Language,” the original dictionary by Samuel Johnson. And there is a 1723 edition of “Daimonologia, or, A Treatise of Spirits,” an occult text from the personal library of Richmond fantasy author James Branch Cabell, namesake of the James Branch Cabell Library.
These rare books have long been available to researchers as part of VCU Libraries’ Special Collections and Archives, but now, thanks to the efforts of Neuhauser, a graduate student in the Department of English in the College of Humanities and Sciences, they are more accessible than ever before.
Over the past year, Neuhauser has been cataloging VCU Libraries’ trove of books published before 1800, allowing researchers to not only search by author, title and subject, but also now by a wide variety of material features.
“Especially with older books, one thing that’s interesting to book historians like me is the material aspects of the books,” Neuhauser said. “Now that we have opened up the catalog to be searched by material terms, you can, say, look for all of VCU Libraries’ books that have a certain type of paper, or that have a specific type of binding, or have gold tooling, or have gilt edges and things like that.”
For book historians, he said, studying the physical properties of books provides insight into the printing processes and bookselling industry of a period, which opens up new culturally significant literary readings.
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.
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.”
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.”
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 dig.library.vcu.edu.
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.”