Chained Books

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Chained books are suddenly in the news! Recently the popular Game of Thrones premiere showed the vast fictional Citadel Library’s chained books, and last month in response, the American Library Association newsletter highlighted a real chained books collection in England’s 17th century Hereford Cathedral. The Cathedral is home to the largest surviving collection of chained books with about 1500 examples – all with their chains, rods and locks intact!

Drawing of the chained library in Hereford Cathedral

Drawing of the chained library in Hereford Cathedral.
Source: Libraries in the Medieval and Renaissance Periods Figure 4.jpg,” Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository,

Simpson Library’s rare books collection does not have anywhere near the Cathedral’s volume of chained books, but we do have one example of a chained book, John Foxe’s 1610 edition of Acts and Monuments of Matters Most Special and Memorable Happening in the Church …, commonly called The Book of Martyrs. First published in 1563, the narrative tells the story of the victims who suffered for the Protestant cause. It’s always been my favorite book to show students, as it is a wonderful example of a book from another age when knowledge was only for the privileged and books were so rare and expensive that they had to be either locked away and used under supervision or secured with a chain to a desk close by.

Acts and Monuments of Matters Most Special and Memorable Happening in the Church

Acts and Monuments of Matters Most Special and Memorable Happening in the Church, London, 1610. Volume 2 of the set.
The text is incomplete, starting on page 842 but the volume has a complete set of woodcuts.

How were these books chained? As you can see in the photographs from our copy, a chain was attached at one end to the front cover of the book; the other end was slotted on an iron rod running along the bottom of a shelf. The “check-out” process allowed the book to be taken from the shelf and read at the desk, but not removed from the bookcase as it would remain attached.


The Library’s unique chained volume also has the royal arms stamped in gilt on its covers and an ornate bookplate of an 18th century Duke.
Royal Arms


So if your budget can’t stretch this year to include a trip overseas, stop by Special Collections and University Archives and take a step back to the Middle Ages without even leaving campus!

August 7, 2017

Personal Digital Archiving Tips

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Whether it’s for sharing with family and friends via online platforms or for adding to a genealogical research collection, many people today are interested in digitizing old photographs, records,  letters, or other personal treasures. While it is always important to consider professional assistance, there are also lots of people who accomplish these projects from their own home offices or public scanning facilities. To help you get started, we have a few tips that we use in our own Digital Archiving Lab (DAL):

  1. Have a plan! Though we all know that challenges and changes arise during any project, it is helpful to know as much as possible about your task before you begin. For example, how many photographs will you be scanning? Where will you store them? Will you be scanning the front and the back of the photo? What will the file names be?
  2. TIFF vs. JPEG. The battle to end all battles – just kidding! We actually use both TIFF and JPEG formats for our projects in the DAL. For most projects, I scan TIFF files first, and then create JPEG copies later if I need them. It is a one way street, though, because it is not recommended to convert JPEGs to TIFFs!
    1. JPEG files are compressed and lossy, so every time they are opened and edited, they lose a bit of data. However, they are a smaller file size and are recommended for web display or emailing.
    2. TIFF files are the professional standard for digital preservation and are also more likely to be required for professional prints. TIFF files are ideal working files because they don’t lose data as you open and edit them, unless deletions are made intentionally.
  3. Resolution. I always recommend scanning at a minimum of 300ppi, so that you can be sure as much detail as possible is captured for future prints or display. If your equipment can scan at a higher resolution, go for it! You can always resize down later, but the reverse isn’t recommended. Finally, if you are scanning film, consider scanning at a minimum of 2400ppi so that your prints can be enlarged.
  4. Spreadsheets and descriptive information. You can actually use any tracking system that you’d like, but the concept is particularly important for large projects. As you scan, make sure to record the filename and any other important information about the photo or letter in a spreadsheet so that you can easily locate files later. I recommend spreadsheets because they can be easily converted into other formats.
  5. Storage. Make sure to save multiple copies of your files in different storage types (cloud storage and external hard drives, for example), and in separate locations.

Recording descriptive information as you scan will you help you find files quickly and easily later.

As you’re working on planning your project, don’t forget library staff are happy to help answer questions, provide consultations, or work with you on professional digitization services. The Digital Archiving Lab is located in the Hurley Convergence Center, room 322, and is open by appointment this summer!

July 20, 2017

A Swim in the Archives

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Summer has most definitely arrived.

Here in the library, it’s chilly all the time and I’m honestly sitting at my desk in a sweater with a space heater at my feet. But outside, the heat and humidity of Fredericksburg in July can make me feel like I live inside a wet sock crammed in an oven.

So for today’s post, I searched through our digital collections for some inspiration on how to beat the heat at Mary Washington. Happily, I found documentation of our friends from the past keeping cool at the various campus pools that students have enjoyed over the years. Sadly, they don’t exist any more, but that won’t stop me from living vicariously through these images.

Down in the basement of Monroe Hall, in the earliest days of the State Normal and Industrial School, you could find students having a swim in their bathing caps and full-coverage suits. It’s not quite poolside in the summertime the way we might think of it today, but it still looks like fun!

This outdoor pool among the trees looks particularly refreshing. These images are circa 1940s-50s, and I think capture a classic, summery vibe.

The chic pool below used to be part of the grounds outside of Framar House. Check out the post from University of Mary Washington: Then and Now for more information and side-by-side images of what the spot looks like today (hint: it probably will not provide this much relief when the heat index is above 100 degrees).

Our students have always been very cool (literally and figuratively).


Happy summer, everyone!

All images retrieved from the Centennial Image Collection, Special Collections and University Archives.

July 14, 2017

Reunion Weekend Treasures

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A big “Thank You” to all the alums that stopped by our History Harvest table Reunion Weekend. It was great to meet many of you and hear stories of your days at Mary Washington.

Vicki Sprague Ravenel, ’77 with Angie White, Digital Resources Librarian, at our History Harvest table. Vicki brought us some wonderful photographs from the seventies!

Vicki Sprague Ravenel, ’77 with Angie White, Digital Resources Librarian, at our History Harvest table. Vicki brought us some wonderful photographs from the seventies!

Alumni from the Class of 2007 catch up in Special Collections over their class yearbook.

Alumni from the Class of 2007 reminisce in Special Collections over their class yearbook.

With your help, Angie and I were able to add some great new materials to the University’s archival collections where they will be preserved for future researchers to use in their research of UMW’s history and traditions. Plus, as you browsed through our digitized online collections, several of you were able to help us identify alumni in the photographs. Shout out to Lisa Perdue, ’87!

Here’s an early peak at just a few of the newly donated treasures from Reunion Weekend.

Janet McConnell Philips '77 donated four cherished Battlefield yearbooks that belonged to her mother, Barbara Ann Hough ’48.

Janet McConnell Philips, ’77 donated four cherished Battlefield yearbooks that belonged to her mother, Barbara Ann Hough, ’48.

Rhonda Graves, ’82 brought Audrey Wood, ’40’s album from 1937 for us to photograph. Wood was from Hampton, Virginia and the Assistant Editor of the 1939 Battlefield. Check out her caption for Monroe Hall, “The Study Hard Building”.

Audrey was Class of 1940 from Hampton, VA and the Assistant Editor of the 1939 Battlefield. Check out Monroe Hall captioned, “The Study Hard Building”.One of Audrey’s friends wearing her class goat insignia. Go Goats!

One of Audrey’s friends wearing her  goat insignia. Go Goats!

Whitney P. Shelton, ’97 shared an entire CD of great photos!

Honor Council, 1995

Honor Council, 1995

And in conclusion, here’s a  photo of Vicki Sprague Ravenel, ’77  in the 1975 campus production of You Can’t Take it With You.

And in conclusion, here’s a great one of Vicki Sprague Ravenel, ’77 and cast in the 1975 production of You Can’t Take it With You.


Again thanks to all the alumni who shared their memories and made our History Harvest such a great event. See you next June at Reunion Weekend 2018!

June 30, 2017

All in a Day’s Work

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On the first day of Reunion Weekend, we had the exciting opportunity to photograph 3D objects in our Digital Archiving Lab when Mary Beth Bush Dore, ’67, brought us a MWC blazer, skirt, and two shirts to photograph. It’s not every day that we work with objects like this, and library staff took the opportunity to get creative with a makeshift modeling studio. Using a coat rack, a silver backdrop fabric, some photography equipment, and a couple of sets of hands, we were able to get great images showcasing outfits from Mary Washington in the 60’s!

Photo Studio

The silver fabric that we had in our offices for exhibits worked great as a photography backdrop!

When we digitize items, we try to capture as much information from them as possible while they are in our hands. We might not have an opportunity to digitize them again, whether it’s because they are being returned to the original owner (as in this case) or they are in a condition that dictates that they not be handled continuously. If we are scanning photographs, we will often scan the back or take notes in a spreadsheet so that we will make sure to record all of the item’s information. In this case, since we were photographing objects, we captured all items individually, front and back. If there was manufacturer information or other details that we noticed, we photographed that as well.

Clothing Items

Three of the clothing items that we received for photographing.

Detail Photographs

When photographing objects, the Special Collections staff capture as much detail as possible, including buttons, patches, and awesome shirt insignias from when Mary Washington was still part of the University of Virginia!

Do you have any UMW history that you aren’t sure can be digitized? Please contact us at and tell us about it. It’s always exciting to try new things in the Digital Archiving Lab, and we can’t wait to see what the next opportunity will bring!

June 22, 2017

Reunion Weekend History Harvest

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Tomorrow and Saturday, UMW Libraries will be hosting our third annual History Harvest for Reunion Weekend.

Angie and I will be at the University Center from 8 AM Saturday morning to noon so stop by and visit!

Angie and I will be at the University Center from 8 AM Saturday morning to noon so stop by and visit!

Special Collections and University Archives, including our Digital Archiving Lab, will also be open from noon to 3:00 PM tomorrow. We will have a display featuring artifacts from the archives (including those early eye-popping red and green beanies!) and staff to scan your treasures. You can contribute originals or digital copies to the University Archives’ collection, so they can be preserved for future users and take home a bookmark or postcard memento from our collections to share with family and friends.

Alumni enjoying 2016 History Harvest

Last year, we enjoyed meeting and talking with many alums and were particularly honored to have the Class of ’66 donate their scrapbook to the University Archives. We even learned more about their freshmen tradition of Peanut Week in November!

This year Reunion Weekend is celebrating class years ending with 2 and 7, so we hope to see some rockin’ materials from our 50th anniversary Class of 1967. Looking forward to seeing you!

Reunion Weekend, May, 1991

June 1, 2017

Kodak Book Digitization

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Though Special Collections and University Archives is every bit of what we typically imagine – a quiet, beautiful reading room surrounded by rare books and manuscripts – it also encompasses historical collections that we don’t always consider right away: digital. As an avid collector of University of Mary Washington history, our department is always interested in adding to our digital collections, which sometimes means that we create digital copies of unique items and then return the original to the owner. For example, we were recently given the opportunity to scan and photograph Helen Davenport Smith’s scrapbook, courtesy of her daughter, Joyce Lee Smith ’58. Helen Davenport Smith was a 1919 graduate of the State Normal School for Women at Fredericksburg, now known as the University of Mary Washington.

Image of the cover of the scrapbook.

Cover of the scrapbook, with decorative letters spelling “Kodak Book.”

The scrapbook, titled “Kodak Book” after what was most likely the popular camera used at the time, adds a wealth of information to our understanding of how the campus and students interacted during the time. It is filled with photographs of students engaging in various activities, such as gardening and socializing, as well as photographs of Smith’s post-college life and career. A cat portrait even made its way into the book, showing that even one hundred years ago, they were a popular photo subject!

Three photographs of students engaged in various activities.

Three photographs depicting students in various activities, such as gardening and recreation.

Photograph of cat on window

Cats have seemingly always captured the eye of photographers.

In order to digitize the scrapbook, staff used the Cobra Rare Book Scanner in the Digital Archiving Lab. The scanner allows rare books to be opened at an angle so that very little pressure is placed on the spine and binding. While the Cobra allows for glass to be placed over pages to help keep them flat, this book did not require flattening because the binding type and usage caused the pages to stay flat on their own. The scanner has two high-resolution cameras built in that photograph the left and right pages individually, resulting in very high-quality image files that allow for great zooming, printing, and long-term digital preservation. As files were processed after scanning, we used Photoshop to adjust the contrast and colors of images where the ink or pencil was faded in order to make the text more readable.

Image of Cobra Rare Book Scanner

The Cobra Rare Book Scanner has a v-shaped cradle to reduce the stress place on rare books during the digitization process.

Image depicting Photoshop techniques.

The original photograph (left) was processed through Photoshop, highlighting the list of names that were difficult to read in the faded ink.

In addition to 2D scanning, we thought it was important to capture the scrapbook as an object. In order to achieve this, we set up a DSLR mini photo studio and captured the edges of the book as well as its fragile thread binding. Photographing the book as an object will allow users to study the page curves, thickness, and binding, as well as provide context for the individual page images.

Image of pop-up photography studio.

A pop-up photography studio was created in the Digital Archiving Lab to capture the scrapbook as an object.

Image of the Kodak Book binding.

Binding of the Kodak Book captured from the pop-up photography studio.

Do you have any University history that you think should be added to our digital collections? Email us at or stop by our History Harvest table at Reunion Weekend on the morning of June 3rd. The Digital Archiving Lab will be open from noon until 3pm on Friday, June 2nd, if you would like to stop by and see how the digitization process works!


All Kodak Book images are courtesy of Joyce Lee Smith ’58.

May 24, 2017

UMW Presidents Collections

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Last month, UMW celebrated the inauguration of Troy Paino, our tenth president. Such a milestone in our history serves as the perfect opportunity to look back on the legacy left by our previous presidents. And here in the archives, legacies are our specialty!

The University Archives holds the administrative records and personal papers of all UMW’s past presidents. Some of these collections have been arranged and processed, and you can view the contents of those collections in their respective finding aids. The UMW Presidents Collections page contains a comprehensive list of all nine previous presidents (in chronological order) with links to the corresponding finding aids where available.

The Presidents Collections site also contains links to expanded biographies of each former president. If your memory doesn’t quite go back 109 years and you don’t remember much about our early presidents, it’s a great place to start.

Edward H. Russell (1908 - 1918)

Edward H. Russell (1908 – 1918)

Each president oversaw vital changes to the university. Edward Russell (above) became president very shortly after the school was founded and authorized construction of the very first buildings, Frances Willard Hall and Russell Hall (now known as Monroe). President Russell’s records have been fully processed and described, and you can explore those contents at the online finding aid.

Morgan L. Combs (1929-1955)

Morgan Combs served as president from 1929-1955, and in that time saw a tremendous amount of growth. Many more construction projects took place under President Combs, such as Mason and Randolph Halls, Lee Hall, Seacobeck, and the Fine Arts Center (duPont, Melchers, and Pollard Halls). Also during this time, the school consolidated with UVA and became the liberal arts women’s college. It also took a new name: Mary Washington College.

William M. Anderson, Jr. (1983-2006)

Another of our presidents with a long and notable tenure was William (Bill) Anderson. President Anderson held the position for 23 years and oversaw a great deal more expansion. More buildings sprung up at the campus in downtown Fredericksburg, and the academic offerings grew to include graduate programs that necessitated a brand new campus in Stafford. With this growth came another name change: University of Mary Washington. President Anderson’s collection also has a finding aid online if you’d like to view the contents of those records.

Visit the UMW Presidents Collection site to read about more of our past presidents and see what finding aids are available, or make an appointment to come by Special Collections to view some of our unique materials.

May 19, 2017

New Digital Collection – The Epaulet

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We are excited to announce that our newest digital collection, The Epaulet, is now available online! The Epaulet was the student literary magazine from 1940 until 1968, with an average of three issues published each academic year. According to the first issue of the magazine, the idea was so embraced by students that their subscriptions funded the endeavor and their initial literary contributions created a surplus for the following issue. In the same issue, President Morgan L. Combs described the magazine as being “symbolic of the beauty, the culture, and the refined atmosphere so prevalent at this college” (November 1940).

Motto of The Epaulet

Motto of The Epaulet

The Epaulet published original creative work such as poetry, short stories, artwork, and plays, and several early issues even included pieces written by faculty and staff, such as “It Can Happen Here,” by Mrs. Charles Lake Bushnell (June 1941) and “Words,” by Dean Edward Alvey (February 1941). Though some artwork existed in the early issues, The Epaulet began to highlight it more by transitioning from a standard cover to original art in the mid-1940s, as well as including art throughout the pages. The full collection of magazines and their creative covers can be browsed by date using the Eagle Explorer search tool available on the Special Collections website: The collection was digitized on the library’s Cobra Rare Book Scanner by student aides and staff, creating high-resolution scans that are full-text searchable and available for download.

Spring 1954 Cover

Cover of the Spring 1954 issue of The Epaulet.

Spring 1956 Cover

Cover of the Spring 1956 issue of The Epaulet.

May 11, 2017

New Collection Materials

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This post was written by Christine Pace, our Special Collections and University Archives student assistant. Thanks Christine!

I started working as a student assistant in Special Collections and University Archives this fall semester. Since starting, one of my favorite things is seeing first-hand the new items that come into our collections. This year the Department received many scrapbooks and photos. It is amazing to see how students have enjoyed their time at Mary Washington over the years. As I go through these new items, I have been able to see photos of past events and gatherings of former students and see captured the same excitement and fun that I have with my friends through our own events from Devil-Goat Day to sitting on Ball Circle on a sunny day.

These accessions are not only physical items but also snapshots of the past. They tell the stories of Mary Washington traditions and the little moments that can be a reminder of fun times. One of my favorite recent accessions is a collection of photographs from Houston Kempton, a past photographer of The Bullet, known today as The Blue and Gray. Here are just a few pictures from this collection that I enjoyed seeing as I scanned and put them into protective archival sleeves.

Furniture on the Lawn, Junior Ring Week

Furniture on the Lawn, Junior Ring Week

Westmoreland Hall

Westmoreland Hall

Student Jumping

Student Jumping

May 4, 2017