Sept. 27-Oct. 10, 2002
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$6 million fund to bridge gaps
U.Va. attacking water crisis
Board approves preliminary plans for arena
Med Center board gets construction report

Bonds will help build on aspirations

Presidential Accolades
Africa Consortium to broaden health, humanities projects
Time form, earnings statement show off new look
To the point with Ann Hamrick
Off the Shelf -- recently published books by U.Va. faculty and staff
Blackford planning graceful exit as Quarterly editor
U.S. News ranks U.Va. No. 1 in “Best Values”
Women’s Center is recipient of the PIE award
Academic integrity topic of conference
Indigenous in black-and-white
Library offers rare glimpse into American history
From Jefferson and Whitman to Crane and Faulkner
Library offers rare glimpse into American history
What is now a big hole in front of Alderman and Clemons libraries will look like this in March 2004 when construction is done on the new Mary and David Harrison Institute for American History, Literature, and Culture and Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library. The innovative building will feature climate-controlled stacks, new uses of electronic technology, exhibit display facilities, research centers, multimedia classrooms and an auditorium.

By Elizabeth Kiem

It’s a book so unlikely it could be called apocryphal. Most bibliographies don’t even give it an entry, although its author is perhaps the most famous, and certainly one of the most beloved, writers of American fiction.

It’s called The Jumping Frog, by Mark Twain, and it can be found at the Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library of Alderman Library.

Written 20 years after his story “The Jumping Frog of Calaveras County” gained worldwide popularity, The Jumping Frog is the result of Twain’s whimsical resolve to transliterate a supposed French translation of the original tale. Few people knew of the convoluted premise, still fewer know of the comic end result, subtitled “In English, Then in French, Then Clawed Back into a Civilized Language Once More by Patient, Unremunerated Toil.”

“We weren’t even aware it had actually been published,” said Michael Plunkett, director of Special Collections since 1993. He found a first edition several years ago and managed to acquire a proof-sheet of an excerpt of The Jumping Frog, in which Twain’s handwritten edits refer to a troublesome critic in salty terminology.

“What a fascinating story to tell by applying things that alter the layers of a work that I didn’t even realize was an eventual publication,” said Plunkett, surveying the items together on a small library table.

The Jumping Frog and its companion manuscript and annotations are just a few of the items in the staggering catalog of Special Collections. More than 12 million manuscripts and 268,000 rare books, along with thousands of maps, broadsides, photographs, prints and audio and video recordings, are housed here.

“They don’t rank special collections departments independently,” said Plunkett, “but I believe that our special collections department has to rank in the top 10.”

Special Collections at a glance

• 12 million items

• 2.5 million University Archive items

• 268,000 rare books

• 12,000 discrete collection units

• 250,000 photographs and small prints

• 8,000 reels of microfiche

• 4,000 maps

• 4,000 broadsides

• audio recordings, motion picture films & ephemera

The U.Va. library as a whole is ranked 22nd among the top 120 research libraries as judged by the Association of Research Libraries. Plunkett notes that other rare book libraries that equal or surpass U. Va.’s belong to private institutions with limited public access.

“We make our materials available to anybody who will identify themselves,” he said.

Indeed, while most users are affiliated with the University, Plunkett says about 10 percent of users are outside researchers from across the country. People all over the world can use the library’s online database, but with only about 5 percent of the holdings presently digitized, most items still require a trip to the quiet serenity of the Small Library for real scrutiny.

Among the fans of Special Collections is Ed Ayers, dean of the College of Arts & Sciences. He sends his undergraduate students to the library to peruse the letters, diaries and account books that illustrate his class on the American South.

“Students have told me time and again how exciting that research was, once they got used to the experience of handling the raw materials of the past,” Ayers said.

The library’s primary collection areas are American literature, American history and Virginiana. In particular, two massive collections acquired in the 1930s stack the shelves of the second floor of Alderman. Clifton Waller-Barrett, a Virginian, alum and shipping magnate, was an avid collector who amassed 40,000 books and 100,000 manuscripts in his lifetime. His holdings are a comprehensive array of every publication of American fiction, poetry, drama and essays from 1775 to 1875.

Predating the Waller-Barrett collection is the Tracy W. McGregor Library, which focuses on the Age of Exploration and is endowed to acquire additional manuscripts and books on travel and Americana. McGregor was a resident of Detroit without direct ties to Virginia, but his inclination toward a Southern institution as a repository for his collection was in part to counter the cultural losses inflicted by the Civil War.

Other preeminent collections are the legacy of individuals associated with the University. Thanks to the zeal of Jared Lowenstein, U.Va. has the finest existing collection of material of the Argentine writer Jorge Louis Borges.

William Faulkner’s papers were turned over to the University after the author’s tenure here as writer-in-residence. Today, U.Va. has the most complete collection of Faulkner papers.

Naturally, Thomas Jefferson’s papers and drawings are well represented. Plunkett singles out an 1820 epistle to Sen. John Holmes about the Missouri Compromise as “the most important known Jefferson letter.” Here Jefferson penned the resonating phrase, “We have the wolf by the ear and we can neither hold him nor let him go. Justice is in one scale and self-preservation in the other,” to describe the predicament of slavery in America as one that would rend the nation.

Among the crown jewels of the collections are the only known manuscripts of The Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman and Stephen Crane’s The Red Badge of Courage; original architectural drafts from Thomas Jefferson’s pen; two of the 25 extant original copies of the Declaration of Independence; and a copy of the first Bible printed in English in North America, in the phonetic equivalent of the Algonquin language.

Special Collections were begun in the 1930s as a home for University archives, the working papers of the University’s founder, proctors, and deans. Separate departments for rare books and manuscripts evolved through the years but were not absorbed into the Special Collections Library until 1987. Over the years, the steady influx of material has overwhelmed storage space on the second floor of Alderman, and today the hallways are lined with valuable materials stacked in cardboard boxes.

The new library facility currently under construction in front of Alderman will become home to Special Collections in March 2004. While the actual square footage will not change much for the library, Plunkett said movable shelves will provide needed storage capacity. Designs include a permanent exhibit room for the Declaration of Independence items and a “Treasure Room” for highlighting the most prominent documents and manuscripts.


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