New library a treasure for all
|The University’s newest library is open and already an integral part of academic life. Read more on page 8.
By Matt Kelly
The most comprehensive Declaration of Independence collection in the world. The first printed account of the Virginia colony by Capt. John Smith. The only complete manuscript of Walt Whitman’s “Leaves of Grass.” These are but some of the many priceless holdings in the University’s newest library, an invaluable resource for scholars and visitors alike.
“Innovative in both concept and execution, the new Mary and David Harrison Institute for American History, Literature and Culture and the Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library, are designed to enrich the academic, intellectual and social life of communities at the University and beyond,” said University Librarian Karin Wittenborg. “These extraordinary facilities house our manuscripts, maps and rare books in the best environmental conditions, and the public spaces make our collections more readily accessible to students, faculty and visitors.”
The $26 million facility, which has been under construction since 2002, is about 72,000 square feet, 80 percent of which is underground.
The Harrison Institute occupies the above-ground portion of the building and contains two exhibit galleries: a permanent display on Flowerdew Hundred, the Harrisons’ plantation on the James River and one of the earliest land grants in Virginia; and a rotating display in the main-floor gallery drawn from special collections. The current exhibit, up until June 2005, features “American Journeys, from Columbus to Kerouac.” The institute, to be formally dedicated Dec. 8 in a private ceremony, also contains a 200-seat auditorium and classroom, seminar and office space for visiting scholars.
The Small Library, which was formally dedicated Nov. 10, will house about 300,000 rare books, 15 million manuscripts, 4,000 maps, the University archives and other treasures on 12 miles of compact shelving in a state-of-the-art facility. The library is designed to handle expansions of the collections during the next 30 years. It is also the permanent home for the Smalls’ Declaration of Independence collection.
“My idea was to make this building a new focal point of the University,” said Albert H. Small, a former member of U.Va.’s Board of Visitors and an alumnus of the Engineering School. “People will feel welcome here. They can take a look at what we have, learn some things they didn’t know and walk away feeling they have had a really great experience.
“Shirley and I are very proud of our … Declaration of Independence [collection], and we are very … pleased to give it to the University of Virginia and its Special Collections Library,” Small said. “It’s in a good home.”
Special Collections is a controlled-access archive, rich in such areas as American history, American literature and Virginiana, said Hoke Perkins, director of the Harrison Institute. The foundation of the special collection is the Tracy W. McGregor Library of American History, which contains Ralph Hamor’s “True Discourse of the Present Estate of Virginia”; the only known copy of More News from Virginia; and Jefferson’s own annotated copy of his only published book “Notes on the State of Virginia”; in addition to “True Relation,” by Capt. John Smith, the first printed account of the Virginia colony. The Clifton Waller Barrett
Library of American Literature, another pillar on which the collection is built, contains the only complete “Leaves of Grass” manuscript by Whitman among its works.
The “Declaration of Independence and the Flowerdew Hundred galleries
are already attracting streams of visitors and tourists from near and far,”
Wittenborg said. “Other library spaces, such as the auditorium, seminar rooms and studies for visiting scholars, are designed to be versatile and to facilitate collaboration.”
Natural light makes the new library inviting, Perkins said. Skylights over the circulation desk, reading room and two staff workspaces bring light into the underground building. Light also flows from a two-story window by the curving central staircase and is directed into the main Special Collections room through windows over the doorway. “It’s brighter underground [in the new library] than it was on the second floor of Alderman” where the Special Collections reading room had been, Perkins said.
The new library is a “national resource,” Perkins added. “With the staff and the physical library, we hope it will attract a continuing bounty” of scholars, visitors and donations of new collections.
|New plaza ‘great public space’
|U.Va.’s new, and mostly subterranean library lies under an impressive
expanse of walkways and plantings
designed to create an accessible, interesting open space for the University community.
“No one could have anticipated how welcoming and redefining the exterior space is here,” said Hoke Perkins, director of the Mary and David Harrison Institute for American History, Literature and Culture. “The new plaza is one of the great public spaces of the University. It has redefined the library precinct with
Alderman, Clemons” and the new Harrison Institute/Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library.
Brick walkways cross the plaza, dividing the grassy areas from three large planting beds and one small bed in the center, each with a white rectangular skylight that protrudes from the ground. Harbor Dwarf Nandina, a lightly branched plant with cane-like stems and lacy
foliage, is planted in the beds to tie the skylights to the Liriope, a loose ground cover. As the plants grow, the skylights will seem less dominant, said Richard M. Hopkins, superintendent of Grounds.
The new beds replace worn out turf and big boxwoods that had surrounded the now-demolished Miller Hall.
The plantings around the new facility are low-maintenance, “sturdy, tough plants that can take the hot weather and the foot traffic,” Hopkins noted.
Most of the plants require little work, but the two large beds of white Seafoam Rosebushes close to the front of the building are a different story. They will require much more maintenance. “But everybody loves them,” Hopkins said.
The landscape for the Harrison Institute/Small Special Collections Library was designed by the firm of Oehme, van Sweden & Associates, and the Office of the University Architect. As part of the design, sidewalks follow natural traffic patterns of people moving from Alderman Library to Peabody and Newcomb halls.
The library bus stop will be relocated farther up McCormick Road, Hopkins said, so passengers are discharged at the start of a diagonal walkway in the hope that “there will be no paths in the sod.”
So far, so good. Pedestrians have been staying on the walkways and not cutting across the grass.
|The art of collecting
|The Special Collections Library makes rare manuscripts, maps and artifacts accessible to everyone. Here are a few examples of how certain items in the collections made their way into private collectors’ hands and eventually into the University’s archives.
Albert H. Small said that his Declaration of Independence collection could not be duplicated at any price. But as much as he treasured it, he regretted that so few people could see it while it was stored in map drawers and boxes at his home. So five years ago, he gave it to the University, where it is now on permanent display and accessible to all library visitors.
“I’ve never seen it on walls like this before,” the overjoyed Small said when the collection was revealed at a dedication ceremony on Nov. 10.
Small has been collecting Americana for more than 50 years. His interest began with rare books and increased to include historical documents, such as presidential papers. A prominent autograph dealer convinced him to collect artifacts surrounding the Declaration of Independence. “Find your focus,” she told him.
After collecting letters from about 48 of the 56 declaration signers, Small was stymied. When another collector’s letters came up for auction, Small tried to buy the lot. But he was outbid by publisher Malcolm Forbes.
“I breathed a sigh of relief, because I had gotten a little too carried away,” Small said. “It was auction fever — and you end up going too far.”
After the auction, Small learned that he could still purchase the collection, indicating that Forbes also overbid. But Small declined. When another collection came on the market about a year-and-a-half later, Small was the sole bidder. His new collection consisted of mostly letters written in 1776, the year the Declaration was written, making them more valuable in collectors’ terms.
A pillar of Small’s collection is a Dunlap printing of the Declaration, one of 25 known copies still in existence. About 15 years ago, a friend who wrote a syndicated column on antiques approached Small: “I hear there’s a copy of the Declaration of Independence coming up for sale at Sotheby’s in two weeks. Are you going to bid on it?”
“I’m very superstitious,” Small said. “I never reveal my bidding intentions. So I told her I would be on a ship in Antarctica — which was true. And then I subtly changed the subject.”
Two weeks later, Small was on that ship, but a trusted dealer who was bidding for him purchased the copy.
“I heard when I got back to the states that … my columnist friend walked up to the dealer and asked, ‘Is your client in Antarctica?’” Small said. “Without answering, the dealer broke into a big smile, and the writer knew immediately I was the buyer.”
Special Collections director Michael F. Plunkett also has pursued items at auction. He once successfully bid on an early draft of screenwriter Peter Viertell’s script of “The Sun Also Rises” with extensive hand-written notes and comments by Ernest Hemingway, who wrote the book on which the film was based. The script was auctioned in London, and Plunkett was bidding by telephone from his
office, early on a Saturday morning, while fighting the flu.
Clifton Waller Barrett assembled an unparalleled collection of American literature, starting in the 1930s. He was advised in 1939 by James Southall Wilson, the distinguished Professor of English at U.Va., to concentrate on American literature from the beginning of the Republic in 1776 to the present as no American institution at that time had that concentration.
One of the cornerstones of the Barrett Library is “Twilight,” Robert Frost’s first book, of which only two copies were printed — and one copy subsequently destroyed. Barrett liked to tell how he didn’t buy “Twilight” twice. He was the unfortunate underbidder at the Bernheimer sale. Years later he received a call from the successful bidder, who wanted to visit. Upon meeting, the other collector produced “Twilight,” and Barrett, thinking he wanted to sell it, asked what his price was. Barrett was embarrassed to learn that the book’s owner only wanted to talk about it with another collector. Barrett said it took hours and expensive scotch to soothe his guest’s feelings. Eventually, with the assistance of Frost himself, “Twilight” did come to Barrett’s collection and to the University.
|New permanent collections
|Declaration of Independence
In June of 1776, Thomas Jefferson, already an accomplished writer at age 33, faced an enormous task: to draft a declaration of independence for the American colonies. Drawing on contemporary documents, he drafted the seminal document of American history, which was then edited by John Adams and Benjamin Franklin, to become what Jefferson would later call “an expression of the American mind.”
The story behind the Declaration of Independence, from its first printing to popular 19th century facsimiles, is illuminated through the Albert H. Small Declaration of Independence Collection — the most comprehensive collection of letters, documents and early printings relating to the Declaration and its signers.
The collection traces the writing, printing and dissemination of the Declaration of Independence in 1776, and its remaking in the years after the Revolution into the American icon it is
today. Documents and letters from the signers bring to life the stories of the individuals who took great risks at that pivotal
moment in American history.
“This collection offers a unique resource for studying the
Declaration and its impact on our development as a country,” said University Librarian Karin Wittenborg. “It also illustrates the passion and bravery of the individual signers and gives us their personal stories. Mr. and Mrs. Small’s wonderful generosity means that we can share this important resource — not only with U.Va. students and faculty — but with all visitors to the University.”
Highlights of the collection are on permanent display in the Declaration of Independence Gallery at the Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library.
|Archaeological treasures from Flowerdew Hundred will be featured in a permanent exhibit in the Mary and David Harrison Institute for American History, Literature and Culture, which will be formally dedicated Dec. 8.
Harrison, a lawyer, investment banker and philanthropist, was fascinated with the history of the estate that he and his wife purchased in 1967. Flowerdew Hundred is one of the earliest original land grants in Virginia. The abundant natural resources at this strategic bend in the James River have attracted people from prehistoric times through the 20th century.
The archaeological digs at Flowerdew Hundred during the past three decades have uncovered more than 200,000 artifacts. Many of these have been the focus of museum exhibits both at Flowerdew Hundred and the Museum of American History.
“University archaeologists and students have found a microcosm of early Virginia history in early Indian artifacts through to the Civil War,” said Harrison Institute director Hoke Perkins.
The Flowerdew Hundred display, which officially opens to the public on Dec. 9, features items from Harrison’s estate in Hopewell, including a Matthew Brady photograph of Union Gen. Ulysses S. Grant crossing the James River at Flowerdew Hundred, augmented with items from the Small Special Collections Library. Perkins said some of the items in the display will change as new items are discovered or to illustrate new interpretations.
|For more about the library’s permanent exhibitions, collections and new facility, visit its Web site at: http://www.virginia.edu/lib.html.