Category Archives: Preservation

Reports from a Student Aide, Spring 2022

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This post was authored by Jamie Van Doren ’23, Special Collections and University Archives student aide.

As we round out the Spring 2022 semester, I’m happy to get the chance to reflect on my time as a student aide in the Digital Archiving Lab thus far. I started in February, and I’ve gotten to do interesting work that I’ve found both exciting and fulfilling. I’ve helped to scan and photograph documents for one of the school’s Historic Preservation classes, scanned documents from the Michael Mello files for our HIST298 class (which I’ve taken—and survived!), and learned how to reshelve and work with books in the Rare Books Room over in Special Collections. The project that I’ve spent the most time on, though, has been helping to edit transcriptions of our collection of Black Alumni Oral Histories, which will be up on Special Collections and University Archives’ Digital Collections site sometime soon.

Screenshot of Special Collections and University Archives Digital Collections landing page

You can check out all of the library’s uploaded alumni oral history interviews by clicking on the Alumni Oral History Collection on the Digital Collections homepage.

While the transcription process is tedious at times, this project has above all been a deeply rewarding experience for me. It feels like a meeting of all of my interests as a history major, a gender studies major, and a student aide hoping to become a librarian later on. It was my job to listen to student-conducted interviews with Black alumni, and edit the corresponding transcriptions for accuracy. The process is simple, but time consuming; one hour of interview most often took me three to four hours to transcribe and check through. This gave me a generous amount of time to absorb and consider the words of our alumni as I worked, and I really did enjoy every second of it.

Listening to and documenting the stories of these alumni has connected me with Mary Washington in a way that I don’t think I have been before. I’ve seen myself, my friends, and a greater image of Mary Washington itself in the recounting of our Black alumni. It has been a reminder for me that the people who have attended, and who currently attend, this school, are what give it such a deep and vibrant history. I know that I have shared dormitories, walked campus walk, and studied in the same library as so many amazing people. Even if we weren’t here at the same time, we have shared so many of the same experiences.

Each of us have our own stories here at Mary Washington, and I’ve been honored to hear and help share those of students before me. Hearing from our Black alumni is particularly valuable as our school grapples with its history (and present day) as a predominantly white institution. Many of the interviews discussed students’ experiences with racism/discrimination on our campus, in Fredericksburg, and in their lives as a whole. These interviews are a vital and important piece of our school’s quest to honor the experiences and stories of minorities on campus (check out the mural dedicated to the life of Mary Washington’s first Black graduate, Venus Jones, in Jepson Science Center or through the accompanying website for another example).

Screenshot of an oral history landing page on the Venus Jones mural companion site

Take a look at oral histories about Dr. Venus Jones’ life through digital collections and on the mural’s companion site.

These oral histories are an insightful and meaningful resource that all of our students, faculty, and staff will benefit from hearing. Not only are they great for those interested in the history and atmosphere of Mary Washington; they’re also just a joy to listen to as a whole. I got to hear so many funny, relatable, and helpful stories about our alumni’s experiences in school and in their lives and careers after their time at Mary Washington. The lives of our Black alumni are powerful, complex, and vibrant. It is so important that we continue to make space to hear their stories and get to know their lives and experiences as we work together to help the University of Mary Washington thrive.

April 28, 2022

Celebrating Pride in the Archives: LGBTQ+ Alumni Oral Histories 

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Special Collections and University Archives is excited to announce our newest digital collection: The Alumni Oral History Collection! This collection aims to document and preserve the unique perspectives of Mary Washington alumni in their own words, and—with the permission of the interview participants—share them with the world!  

Large rock painted with a rainbow and the text "UMW does not discriminate."

UMW’s Spirit Rock displays a message of support for members of the LGBTQ+ community.

The first interviews in the collection are the stories from the LGBTQ Alumni Affinity Group. These interviews were initially conducted by Professor Erin Devlin’s HIST 441: Oral History class in Spring 2019. Professor Devlin worked with Alumni Relations Executive Director Mark Thaden (’02) to identify oral history narrators through the affinity group. Thaden himself even agreed to participate!  

Students carried out, recorded, and transcribed the interviews with the alumni, and obtained permission from those participants who volunteered to have their interviews archived and shared. The interviews were transferred to Special Collections and University Archives where the transcripts were edited for clarity and style and then uploaded to Preservica, our digital preservation and access platform.  

Screenshot of the landing page for the Alumni Oral Histories digital collection.

Access all interviews and transcripts through our online Digital Collections page. Browse the whole collection, filter by subject, or enter a search term. All transcripts are full-text searchable.

The stories that make up the collection are as varied and interesting as the alumni who told them. Twenty-four interviews—over fifteen hours of interview content—cover the history of LGBTQ alumni at Mary Washington from the late 1960s to just a few years ago. Narrators provide wonderful glimpses of student life, friendships, and fun; there’s more than one awed perspective on seeing the campus for the first time, and a very Mary Washington meet-cute told from both sides. There are great stories of drag shows, road trips, parties, sports, activism, and inspiring individuals they remember from their days as students. 

The oral histories also feature some raw moments of struggle, grief, and uncertainty. Some alumni recount devastating national events, like 9/11 and the horrific 1998 murder of Matthew Shepherd, and describe the impacts felt on campus. Others tell of complex family relationships, or the loss of friends. The narrators look back on their multitude of experiences with honesty, and it’s a privilege to listen. 

A large group of students assembled on Ball Circle. The students wear different colored t-shirts and appear to form a rainbow.

Students display a rainbow of solidarity during a campus Day of Silence event. Battlefield, 2013, p.4.

We are very happy to launch this collection in time to celebrate Pride Month! UMW Special Collections and University Archives supports all members of the LGBTQ+ community every day. We recognize that archives are not neutral, and we are actively working to make sure that when we help tell the story of Mary Washington, it includes all the important voices that deserve to be heard.  

 All images courtesy of UMW Special Collections and University Archives.

June 24, 2021

Managing Your Personal Records

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It’s back-to-school season! Everyone is starting to settle back into the school-year routine around UMW, but before we all get too settled, I’d like to take a quick moment to bring your attention to something you may not think about too often: your personal records.

The French Club and their important personal records, 1962.

Sadly, if you’re a collector of vintage LPs, I’m not talking about those personal records. I’m talking about the various important documents and digital materials we all generate in the course of our lives. If you’re a college student (or if you were one once, or if you’ve ever lived away from your parents), these might be the kinds of items you have to call mom or dad to send you if you’re trying to get a job or an internship, or take out a loan. These might be things like a birth certificate or your social security card. Depending on your life circumstances, these might also include things like marriage certificates or adoption papers. These types of things—the legal documents that prove you’re you—are top tier important records. I’ll talk about how to handle these later.

Personal records also include things like tax returns, bills (medical, utilities, etc.), bank statements, and similar items. These materials—the documentation of a specific transaction—are also important to retain and protect. However, these types of records don’t need to be secured for a lifetime. You might also consider your personal email, social media accounts, resumes, and photographs as part of your personal records. Some of these things you may want to preserve for any number of reasons, and some of them you might consider getting rid of to free up some space in your desk or on your hard drive (after all, how deep is your sentimental attachment to your old electric bills?). You can dispose of some of these items routinely by applying a rough retention schedule.

As the Records Coordinator at UMW, I specialize in retention schedules. Retention schedules are guidelines that help establish how long it’s necessary to keep a particular item. Agencies in the Commonwealth of Virginia (like UMW) follow retention schedules set by the Library of Virginia that keep us in legal compliance with recordkeeping standards. These are relatively strict and vary by agency and type of record. For your personal records, it can be a bit looser, but it’s still helpful to stay organized for your own benefit.

Examples of things you can dispose of after one year include:

  • Pay stubs
  • Bank statements
  • Utility bills

And after three years:

  • Tax returns (the IRS can audit you up to three years after you file a tax return, unless you seriously omitted more than 25% of your income in the past, and then it’s six years).
  • Medical bills

And those top tier important records I mentioned earlier? Secure those in a very safe place and keep them forever.

Of course, this isn’t a comprehensive or exact list. Your mileage may vary, and you might decide to keep certain things for longer, or you might have records not described here. Resources for determining records and record-keeping strategies abound online, or you can always come see us in Special Collections and University Archives with your records questions.

Once you’ve determined that you have items that you don’t need any more, make sure you think about how to dispose of them properly. Files that have personally identifying information (PII) should be disposed of securely. Shred paper records with a cross-cut shredder, and use permanent deletion software for electronic records. “Delete” or emptying the trash can on your desktop doesn’t really get rid of that file. Heidi Eraser is a free tool that completely deletes files from your hard drive by overwriting several times, and can even be set up to operate on a schedule.

Securely shred your personal paper documents whenever possible, especially if they display personally identifying information like bank account or social security numbers.

For the things you want to keep, focus on organizing your most important files. The Council of State Archivists compiled a list for Electronic Records Day last year that offers several helpful steps for organizing and preserving your personal electronic records. Among these tips include techniques such as backing files up in multiple places, and giving your files descriptive filenames. Angie White, our Digital Resources Librarian, also blogged about useful strategies for keeping your files safe and organized in her Personal Digital Archiving post for this site. Digital materials are more fragile than some people realize, so it’s important to adopt smart preservation and retention tactics to keep your information safe over time.

Take care of your records and yourself this school year, and as always, please come see us in Special Collections and University Archives if you have any questions or just want to chat! As a reminder, the SC&UA reading room has open hours on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday from 10-12 and 1:30-4. We’re located on the second floor of Simpson Library, Room 217, and anyone is welcome to stop by during those hours. You can also make an appointment to see us outside of those times by emailing or

September 3, 2019

New Digital Collection: Friends of the Rappahannock Oral Histories

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It has been just over a year since we launched our new digital collections platform and if you’ve been checking in every now and again, you’ve probably seen our collections steadily growing. One of our newest collections, the Friends of the Rappahannock Oral History Collection, is the result of a collaboration between faculty and students of the University of Mary Washington History and American Studies Department and the Friends of the Rappahannock. These two groups teamed up to conduct interviews with people invested in and engaged with the history of the Rappahannock River. Special Collections and University Archives received the collection of interviews from the Friends of the Rappahannock so that the audiovisual materials could be preserved and made accessible to the public in perpetuity.

Screenshot of the Digital Collections "Browse Archive" page, showing all of the digital collections in the system. The Friends of the Rappahannock Oral History Collection is enclosed in a red box.

The Friends of the Rappahannock Oral History Collection is one of our most recent additions to Digital Collections.

The interviews detail a wide variety of information regarding the Rappahannock River. Interviewees include Bill Micks, Chief Anne Richardson, Harold Wiggins, James E. Pitts, Sr., John Tippett, and Josiah P. Rowe, III. Once the Friends of the Rappahannock Oral History Collection page is open, you can select an interview based on the topic it covers by viewing the list of over twenty main subjects located on the left of the collection homepage. This list can also be helpful to get a general idea of the themes found in the interviews.

Screenshot of the Friends of the Rappahannock Oral History Collection hompage. A red arrow labeled "Topics" is pointing towards the list of subjects covered by the interviews.

When browsing the collection, you can choose which interviews to read or view by selecting the topics you are most interested in, and you can also select more than one topic.

Each interview is available in both video and transcribed PDF format, so a full-text search of the collection is possible by using the search box at the top right of the web page. If you are reading a particular transcript and would like to do a quick search for a particular topic, select the magnifying glass symbol at the top of the PDF Viewer and type in the word or phrase you are looking for. Both the audiovisual and transcription materials are available for download, but streaming is also available for direct viewing on the website.

Screenshot of a transcribed oral history PDF and it's associated metadata in the Digital Collections website. A red box has been drawn around the search box on the embedded PDF viewer to draw attention to it.

The PDF viewer includes a search feature so that you can quickly locate specific words or phrases.

Check out our newest collection and please don’t hesitate to get in touch with us at with any questions!

June 27, 2019

Community Partnerships & Digital Preservation

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A love for historic artifacts and their stories is something that draws many people to the cultural heritage professions, and we at Simpson Library’s Special Collections and University Archives department are no different. When the opportunity arose to work with our local Masonic Lodge (Fredericksburg Lodge No. 4) to digitize one of their rare books, we were excited to be a partner on this important task. Not only was this a rare book, but it also happened to be the 1668 Bible that George Washington and countless other Masons had taken their oaths on hundreds of years ago!

A photograph of three members of Special Collections and University Archives staff and three members of the Masonic Lodge, with two people in the front holding the Bible in its display case.

Special Collections & University Archives staff partnered with Fredericksburg Lodge No. 4 members to digitize their historic 1668 Bible, upon which many Masons have taken their oaths, including George Washington. (Photo by Suzanne Rossi)

Working with rare books and archival materials is never something we take lightly, whether it is a famous volume or local papers collection. Materials are always assessed by our team to determine if they are suitable for digitization, and that the scanning process will not harm the item. Our first meeting with the Masons included this same assessment, where we took a look at the condition of the Bible and made sure our equipment would be a good match for it. Our initial appraisal determined the Bible was in remarkably good condition for its age and would be a great candidate for digitization.

A photograph of Digital Resources Librarian, Angie White, removing the Bible from its display case, while Digital Archiving Lab Student Aide, Mary Novitsky, stands near the computer and scanner.

Angie and Mary prepare to take scans of the Bible. (Photo by Suzanne Rossi)

The process of digitizing the Bible included many steps and the following outline represents a broad overview of the project from beginning to end:

  1. Project plan. I’ve mentioned the importance of project planning in other posts, so I couldn’t leave it out here! Before we got started with the Bible, we developed a plan as to the file names and file types we would create, image storage, tools we might need, and even where we would store the Bible while it was undergoing digitization.
  2. Pre-scan photoshoot. We first photographed the Bible with our DSLR to document its pre-scan condition. With these photographs, we could check to see if there were any changes in the state of the Bible as we scanned.
  3. Scanning. We used our Cobra Rare Book Scanner to gently scan each page. The V-shaped cradle and glass on the Cobra held the book open just enough to capture an image of each page, while also reducing the amount of strain on the binding. The Bible is in great shape, but occasionally tools like a bone folder were needed to help turn delicate pages. The images created were 600 pixels-per-inch TIFF files and they will remain the preservation master files for this project.

    A photograph of the Bible in the scanner's cradle, with glass over top of the pages. Two red laser lines are in the middle of the book.

    The cradle of the Cobra Rare Book Scanner gently held the book open, while the red laser lines helped guide us to the correct focus point for the cameras. (Photo by Suzanne Rossi)

  4. Photoshoot. Following the Cobra scanning, more photographs were taken using the Digital Archiving Lab’s DSLR to capture the Bible as an object, including the covers and binding. Scanning and photographing the four hundred pages of the Bible took about eleven hours distributed over several days.
  5. Review. At this stage, we browsed through the images to make sure we didn’t skip any pages or have an image in need of re-scan.
  6. Image processing. While the original TIFF files from the scanning process will remain the unedited, preservation master files, our Digital Archiving Lab Student Aide, Mary Novitsky, created copies and edited all of the scanned images to make sure they were straight and cropped for future facsimile prints. This detail-oriented process doubled the time spent working on this project.
  7. Batch file renaming. During the digitization process, we often take more than one capture of a page to get the best final product. The extra images are deleted during the editing phase, but this leaves gaps in the file naming structure. Luckily, Mary was able to discover a way to do this efficiently with Adobe Bridge, a digital asset management software application. The process involved selecting the folder of final images and directing the software to save them to a new location with a specified sequential filename.
  8. Final review. Our last step was a final review of the images. We were so pleased with the way they turned out!
A photograph of Digital Archiving Lab Student Aide, Mary Novitsky, sitting in front of a computer monitor with multiple scan images on the screen. A Masonic Lodge member is standing and looking at the monitor.

Digital Archiving Lab Student Aide, Mary Novitsky, discusses some of the images she processed. (Photo by Suzanne Rossi)

One of the most exciting aspects of digitizing historic books is not knowing what to expect as each page is turned. This Bible proved no exception, as different pages showed early signatures, fold-out maps, and marbled papers as well as torn, stained pages in the midst of clean, whole sections. While we may never know the stories behind the curiosities on these pages, their mysteries inspire us to discover more about the past. Though digital surrogates will never replace an original, they provide an opportunity for more access and insight into historic artifacts. The Special Collections staff were excited to be a part of this successful community digitization project and look forward to our next historic adventure.

A photograph of the last page of the Bible being turned back, showing the yellow, red, white, and blue marbled paper on the inside back cover of the Bible.

Beautiful marbled paper was found at the back of the Bible during digitization. (Photo by Suzanne Rossi)

Please feel free to get in touch with us at if you have questions about this project, or a project of your own!

October 18, 2018

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

Honors Projects

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As we near the end of the school year, students pursuing departmental honors are putting the final touches on their projects. Upon completion and approval, students will submit them to the University Archives for long-term preservation and access. The library collects these projects as part of its mission to preserve the University’s history, and to make available the valuable scholarship that is produced here.

As of 2014, students are able to submit their approved projects online directly from the library’s website: Once the submission is complete, library staff adds the item to the collection in the digital archive: In the submission form, the student is asked to provide information about their project, like an abstract and keywords. This information will be associated with the item in the digital archive so that researchers can easily find the student’s scholarship if it relates to their search.

Honors Paper Collection

The link in the red box will take users to the honors papers collection.

For honors papers that pre-date the digital archive, bound copies reside in Special Collections and University Archives. In 2005, the library began a preservation project that retrospectively bound every thesis to help ensure their long term preservation. Previously, theses had been submitted to the library in a variety of containers, causing page curls and other issues. In order to provide access to these papers, each has a record in the library’s catalog so that it can be found by the UMW community or other researchers. Library staff are also always happy to hear from alumni who request that their paper be digitized and uploaded into the digital archive.

Original Honors Papers Bindings

Originally, honors papers were submitted to the library in a variety of different containers.

Bound Honors Papers

For better long-term preservation, the honors papers were retrospectively bound in 2005.

Of course, there have also always been honors projects that aren’t papers, and the library has collected plays, videotapes, photographs, and costume sketches, just to name a few. As students embark on more complex digital projects every year, the library is  working on solutions to collect these and other types of projects, as well.

If you’re submitting an honors project to the collection this year, congratulations! Please don’t hesitate to contact Special Collections and University Archives if you have questions about the process.

April 20, 2017

Mary Washington’s Will

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Working in Special Collections and University Archives, we frequently encounter many fascinating objects.  This summer, we got to see a truly unique item that was quite personal for us — the last will and testament of Mary Ball Washington!

Mary Washington's Will

Mary Washington’s will, 1789 [image used courtesy of Fredericksburg Circuit Court Archives]

Working in collaboration with the Washington Heritage Museums and the Fredericksburg Circuit Court Archives (which owns the document), our staff was able to digitize the will in the Digital Archiving Lab using our Cobra overhead scanner.

Mary Washington's will on the Cobra scanner

Mary Washington’s will on the Cobra scanner

The Cobra allows for high-resolution scanning of fragile bound books and documents, such as this will.  Now that staff at both the Washington Heritage Museums and the Fredericksburg Circuit Court Archives have access to high-quality digital images of the will, they can reproduce it in exhibits and printed materials without having to repeatedly handle the original document.

Digital Resources Librarian Suzanne Chase zooms in on Mary Washington's signature

Digital Resources Librarian Suzanne Chase zooms in on Mary Washington’s signature

Partnering with local cultural heritage institutions to digitize their treasures is one of the most rewarding aspects of our work in Special Collections, and we hope that by digitizing this piece of history, more people will come to know and appreciate Mary Washington the way we do at UMW!

August 15, 2016

Special Collections and University Archives Receives Grant

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University of Mary Washington Libraries, in partnership with the Center for Historic  Preservation and UMW Facilities Services, has been awarded a $6,250 grant by the community Duff McDuff Green Jr. Fund.

Monroe Hall, June 1910

Monroe Hall, June 1910

This grant will assist with the preservation and digitization of the University’s architectural blueprints and drawings — particularly those related to noted Virginia architect Charles M. Robinson, whose architectural designs grace campuses and other buildings throughout the commonwealth of Virginia.

UMW has one of the largest collections of historical blueprints and drawings of Robinson’s works. The 150th anniversary of the architect’s birth is approaching in 2017, and scholars are interested in accessing and studying his drawings. Among Robinson’s notable architectural works at UMW are Monroe Hall (1910-11), Frances Willard Hall (1909-11), Virginia Hall (1914-15, 1926), Seacobeck Hall (1930-31) and the bridge to Seacobeck Hall (1930).

This project provides the opportunity to preserve these historical architectural resources and make them available online to researchers while raising awareness of Charles M. Robinson and his impact on Fredericksburg’s architectural landscape. The grant also will give students an opportunity to work directly with historical documents, learning how to correctly digitize large-scale historical records and add metadata and standardized file names so they can easily be accessed online. The project is made possible by a grant from the Duff McDuff Green, Jr. Fund of The Community Foundation.

February 23, 2016