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Who’s That New Face At The Reference Desk?
Students, Staff And Friends Surprise U.Va Library With Creative Solutions To Budget Gloom

December 11, 2002-- The state’s budget crisis has had a silver lining for the University of Virginia’s library system: unexpected — and unexpectedly creative— shows of support from its visitors.

From retirees tackling cataloging, to fraternity brothers clearing space for construction crews, to staff sharing jobs they never would have tried before, the library has discovered a wellspring of good will. And that effort is helping keep the University’s 11 central library facilities running despite the worst financial crisis in decades.

On a cold fall afternoon, for example, three members of the Phi Beta Sigma fraternity were hard at work in the Science and Engineering Library in Clark Hall, shifting hundreds of books from upper-floor shelves so work crews could continue renovating the historic building. Jude Norelus, Ingo Harry and Kofi Owusu spent hours loading and unloading book carts between the massive floors, navigating around construction equipment, shelves, stairwells and students.

“I’m simply amazed,” said University Librarian Karin Wittenborg. “The community’s wholehearted support for the library is keeping our spirits up in these tough times.”

Local retiree Wilma Mangione, meanwhile, reported to the Fine Arts Library, where she entered the library’s historic postcard collection into a software database. “I like returning to the academic setting,” she said. “The work is fascinating, and the people are incredibly nice.”

Grateful staff members have also pitched in. With a hiring freeze that has left the library at a 1976 staffing level, every one of the system’s 23 departments has volunteered hours to keep essential services operating.

Paul Rittelmeyer, director of the acquisitions department, put in hours at the science library’s reference desk. He noted that the work has given him a view into the impact of his own department’s actions: “I see how the databases we buy are actually used, and I’m much more aware how students and faculty respond to them.”

Rittelmeyer went on to encourage his own staff to reach out and “make some contributions to your colleagues.” Rose Salmon, his administrative assistant, took on the front lines of library customer service: the reference desk at Clemons, the undergraduate library.

“I’ve been here 18 years and this was my first chance to meet the public,” said Salmon. “I not only got great training and new skills, I have new respect for people who staff the desk.”

Besides staff sharing and volunteering, the library has also received these sudden and welcome shows of support:

  • an emergency grant from the University administration to restore hours that had been cut;
  • a contribution from the 21 Society (one of the University’s “secret” philanthropic societies) to bring in a magician and refreshments to entertain students during exam week;
  • a gift from Special Collections staff member Heather Riser for a day’s worth of programming sponsorship on public radio station WMRA, on behalf of the library’s new Lewis and Clark exhibition;
  • an anonymous donation for free yoga classes for stressed-out employees, with another cash gift from a staff member to help colleagues pay for conference travel;
  • a contribution of cardboard supplies — and time to assemble them as holders for delicate books awaiting preservation — from community resident Liza Millet.

“There are more stories than I can possibly tell you,” said Wittenborg. “But I can tell you we couldn’t have survived the current crisis without our friends, and we’ve learned that they exist in all places.”


Images available for download (72, 150, and 300 dpi):

  • Science Library volunteers: Psi Beta Sigma fraternity
  • Acquisitions staff share: Paul Rittelmeyer and Rose Salmon
  • Fine Arts Library community volunteer: Wilma Mangione
  • Fine Arts Library staff share [not in story]: Shannon Wilson and Ann Burns

Contact: Charlotte Morford Scott, (434) 924-4254

FOR ADDITIONAL INFORMATION: Contact the Office of University Relations at (434) 924-7116. Television reporters should contact the TV News Office at (434) 924-7550.

SOURCE: U.Va. News Services


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