Author Archives: Angie White

Transcribing our 19th Century Mystery

In the Galvin Rare Book Room, a solitary, nondescript ship’s journal continuously captures the imagination and interest of students, staff, and visitors. The journal is about 165 years old, weathered and worn, with almost every inch of space between its covers filled with log entries, drawings, or notes. Occasionally, a dried leaf or a beautiful, swooping signature appears on its faded blue pages. The journal begins with typical, mid-nineteenth century whaling log entries, but they slowly become less formulaic and turn into, what seem to be, long pieces of poetry and stories.

Inside cover and first page of 1850s ship's journal.

Inside cover and first page of 1850s ship’s journal.

The majority of our information about this journal derives from brief glances, short readings, and photographing, as the library knows very little about the origins or provenance of this particular item. We aren’t sure to whom it once belonged, how it came to be in the library’s collections, or even why it might have arrived in Richmond. After a very helpful consultation with experts at the Mariner’s Museum Library, it seems likely, based on handwriting changes, that there was more than one journalist throughout the book.

A large whale drawing, one of the most popular drawings in the journal.

A large whale drawing, one of the most popular drawings in the journal.

A potential journalist might have been a fellow by the name of Vernon Guyon Locke, whose signature appears frequently in both the margins and across entire pages. After a bit of research into this name, it was discovered that Locke, a British citizen, was an accused pirate during the Civil War. There is very little information about Locke during the 1850s, and perhaps this journal could shed light into his story.

Signatures of Vernon Locke

Signatures of Vernon Locke

In order to try and understand Locke and the other stories held within the journal’s pages, we know that transcriptions and historical expertise are essential. Our hope is that interested community members will visit our digital exhibition of the journal, where each page image is listed alongside an online transcription tool. Once registered, contributors can follow the transcription instructions on each page to add their typed translation of the handwriting.

We will be holding a Transcribathon on Wednesday, November 18th to kick off transcription. Registration is required, and can be completed online:


Even if you can’t join us for the event, you can start transcribing, researching, or exploring the journal anytime at

Mysterious Item at Boatwright

Every so often, we come across a mystery in the library. Typically, they’re the Sherlock Holmes type, but this time, we found our own puzzle in need of investigation. Just last week, a curious little postcard was found that didn’t seem to belong with any particular book or with any collection. It was old, faded, and beautifully decorated, quickly catching the imagination and interest of those who saw it. It was definitely a mystery just waiting to be solved.

The front of the decorated postcard.

The front of the decorated postcard.

Inter-Library Loan student employees found the vintage postcard on a book cart when they were shelving in the stacks. There was no indication of where it might have fallen from or how it appeared on the cart. Because the writing and postmark were so faded, it was difficult to garner any information about the card from first glance. The best solution to help reveal the possible stories behind the card seemed to be to photograph it with our macro lens, allowing for magnification of the tiny print.

The back of the postcard, with a handwritten message.

The back of the postcard, with a handwritten message.

Once we photographed both sides of the card, we were able to see, in fine detail, important features like the postmark, partial address, and the script on the back. When the postmark was magnified and rotated, we could read that the date was most likely printed as “17-11-59,” or November 17th, 1959, with a specific time of 9:45 AM. We also saw some letters inside the outer ring of the postmark that began with “MEKLIG…” The rest of the letters were faded enough that, even with the magnification, we couldn’t decipher them. Since the postage stamp was labeled “India,” though, we did a quick Google search for locations in India beginning with the six letters on the postmark and found one possibility: Mekliganj – a city in the Indian state of West Bengal.

The postmark, with time, date, and location information.

The postmark, with time, date, and location information.

So, from photographing the card, we were able to discover two important pieces of information – the date and probable location from where the postcard was sent.

Our curiosity didn’t stop there, though! With the help and interest of various staff members, we discovered that the script on the back of the card is likely Hindi, and that the partial address on the front reads “Mills Agency.” Furthermore, some basic Googling informed us that this type of card is not super unique and, in fact, there are quite a few of these cards from the early decades of the 20th century floating around. Several descriptions of the cards online suggested that they were mailed among grain merchants to provide updates on pricing. We don’t know if that is true or not for our mysterious postcard, but it is an interesting theory and could possibly explain why the postcards were easily used for artwork later.

Address line of the postcard, that we believe reads "Mills Agency."

Address line of the postcard, that we believe reads “Mills Agency.”

We would love to know more about the postcard – such as where it came from, what it says, why it was painted on, where it might belong, etc. If you think you might have any information on this – please leave a comment below or contact us – we would be happy to hear from you! We will keep searching, as well, and will provide any updates that we find on this mystery item.

DTP’s Amy Shick Wins First Place at Computer Science Conference

Just like the majority of today’s workers, those of us in Discovery, Technology, & Publishing (DTP) work with technology every single day. We frequently find ourselves implementing newly released applications, troubleshooting those that we already have, and excitedly hypothesizing about those to come. Because of these daily occurrences, we know just how important it is to encourage our students, and students of all of ages, to take an active interest in technology since it has become such a pillar of today’s world. So, when we found out DTP student employee Amy Shick (WC ’16) won a scholarship to attend the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing, we couldn’t help but want to tell the whole world!

Amy presenting her poster.

Amy presenting her poster at the Capital Region Celebration of Women in Computing Conference.

Amy, a double major in Computer Science and Accounting with a Mathematics minor, started working with DTP at the beginning of her sophomore year. Shortly after her first few days, she began working with another highly skilled student employee, Michael (RC ’13), on a hometown map for our digital exhibit celebrating the anniversary of the Westhampton Campus. Amy didn’t stop there – she continued to join the team in all of the implementing, troubleshooting, and hypothesizing previously mentioned, helping us accomplish a remarkable amount with our digital projects. She customized code and edited images for the interactive Westhampton Scrapbook and established a workflow for mass image-to-PDF conversion, saving her fellow student employees a lot of time!

Amy’s enthusiasm and passion for the computer science field has shown in every project that she has worked on for DTP, so it came as no surprise to us when she received first place for undergraduate poster presentations at the recent Capital Region Celebration of Women in Computing conference, thereby earning her scholarship to attend the Grace Hopper Conference. Her poster presentation detailed an educational computer science game that she created as part of the National Science Foundation grant aimed at increasing female involvement and achievement in STEM. The goal of the game is to help teach introductory computer science concepts and increase interest in the field. Entitled “Ice Maze”, the game is played by the user swimming around as a penguin in an ice maze searching for buckets of fish. Each bucket of fish corresponds to a different “game station” that offers a mini game or quiz with a specific introductory computer science topic. The topics tested include searching, sorting, the binary number system, working with arrays, evaluating loop conditions, and identifying variable and expression types. The game was actually part of a study conducted across seven universities to examine the efficacy of an intervention designed to encourage a growth mindset (the belief that computer science ability can be developed) and it has been released to over 400 students.

Here are several screenshots of the game:


Of course, in addition to game development and interactive flipbooks, Amy also takes a full load of coursework and is a member of a variety of organizations and societies, such as Alpha Phi Omega National Service Fraternity (of which she was recently elected President!!), Mortar Board National College Senior Honor Society, and Beta Gamma Sigma International Business Honor Society, just to name a few!

Despite all of these engagements, Amy still finds time to happily join us every week in DTP to work diligently on new challenges. We are so glad that she is a part of our team and are very proud that she is representing UR at the Grace Hopper Conference, encouraging women everywhere to jump into the study of computer science!

Guest Post: Reflections on AMIA 2014

Today we are featuring a guest post written by Dywana Saunders from the Media Resource Center at Boatwright Memorial Library:

I had the pleasure of attending the Association of Moving Images Archivists (AMIA) conference held in Savannah Georgia, October 8-11th. Conference presenters ran the gamut, from film archivists, museum professionals, entertainers, students, and film makers; some coming from all over the world. Session topics ranged from snippets on the newest advances with digital asset management systems (DAMs), the Public Broadcasting Metadata Dictionary Project (PBCore), and the Federal Agencies Digitization Guidelines Initiative (FADGI), to dealing with ancient and hard to repair and maintain AV equipment.

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Workshop: Phase One Certified Professional – Cultural Heritage

As you might have seen from the posts below, we do a large amount of digitization using a couple different types of equipment here in Discovery, Technology & Publishing. My personal favorite, though, is our Phase One P65+ digital back. When the back is mounted on a DSLR-like camera body, it becomes a pretty fantastic photography tool. An argument could possibly be made that I am slightly biased because of my love of photography, but I think that the awesome quality of the images we produce would be more than enough to convince you otherwise. We use our digital camera in a controlled-light environment to photograph special and rare items when we want to provide highly detailed, focused digital representations.

Left: close-up of our medium format digital back and camera system Right: Our photography studio set-up is perfect for the majority of material that we handle, such as manuscripts, maps and rare books.

Left: close-up of our medium format digital back and camera system
Right: Our photography studio set-up is perfect for the majority of material that we handle, such as manuscripts, photographs, maps and rare books.

Despite the similarities in appearance with mainstream DSLRs, a medium format digital back and camera system have significant differences and/or issues that are unique to them. Interestingly, although they definitely qualify as high-tech equipment, medium format digital backs are still relatively new technology that are constantly being improved. That means that sometimes (especially with older versions) there might need to be a little bit more time invested in understanding the equipment in order for it to work at its most efficient level. Even though I’ve taken photography classes and am practically tied to my DSLR, there is still a lot to learn about medium format cameras and our digital back, in particular. Thus, last week, I packed my bags and headed to Dallas for a two-day workshop and certification program through Digital Transitions (the sole Phase One distributor in the US) and taught by a Phase One instructor. The fact that it was hosted by the Dallas Museum of Art only added to the great experience!

Before attending the program, I completed pre-course work and tests that laid a foundation for a general understanding of how Phase One digital backs operate. The workshop itself focused on how the digital backs (in conjunction with Capture One software) could work in a cultural heritage setting. Among the countless subjects we discussed, some of the most relevant for me were appropriate tone curves (tonality of shadows and highlights), color management, and troubleshooting. I actually felt pretty good that we hadn’t experienced a lot of the issues or errors here at DTP that we covered in class, but now I do feel more prepared to solve them if they do occur. We even spent a good deal of time discussing digital backs connected to technical cameras, which was really interesting because I hadn’t had the opportunity to really study them before.

At the end of the class, we had to take an exam in order to complete our certification. After a short (but seemingly endless) couple of days, I received word that I had passed the test and was officially a Phase One Certified Professional! I still have so much more to learn, especially because every photography studio and subject is unique, but it really was an incredibly informative session. Plus, it was great to learn the intricate details behind the equipment I work with on a daily basis.

Paper Marbling at the VMFA

As you probably already know, we spend a lot of time working in the digital world here in Discovery, Technology, & Publishing. What might surprise you, though, is that many of our staff members are fantastic material artists and crafters. Our hobbies run the gamut, but include arts such as knitting, painting, bookmaking and papermaking. There are even some who draw a bridge between the material and digital world with interests such as 3-D Printing. One of the best things about being located among so many art and cultural heritage institutions here in Richmond is the availability of craft workshops and classes to help us learn more.

A variety of the painted papers Crista created.

A variety of the painted papers Crista created.

Crista LaPrade, our Digital Projects & Preservation Coordinator, took one such workshop several days ago at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts (VMFA). This particular class was an Introduction to Paper Marbling, taught by Steve Pittelkow. During the intensive day-long class, Crista learned different techniques to create unique patterns and designs used in “Turkish” paper marbling. The possibilities for using the final product are endless and might include book endpapers, book covers, or even as displayed art in her coworkers’ offices (no pressure…)! Furthermore, the same techniques that were used on the paper can also be used on fabrics and other mediums.

The process begins with spraying the paper on one side with a mixture of alum (aluminium sulfate) and water. Then, acrylic paint mixed with water is added using eyedroppers to shallow trays filled with water and carrageenan. The paint floats on the surface of the water/carrageen mixture and can pool in concentric circles and shapes. A variety of “combs” or “rakes” are used to pull the colors through each other on the surface of the water resulting in a wide array of patterns. The mordanted paper was then carefully laid onto the surface and then quickly removed, capturing the paint. Steve taught the class several different patterns that could be created including fantasy, nonpareil, ripples, gel get, angelfish and Spanish moiré.

Four details of different painting techniques.

Four details of different paper marbling patterns Crista created.

One of the benefits of having staff who are interested in learning these artisan skills is that they can bring them back to the library and share them with the rest of us. If there is ever a time when one of us is making a book or working on another project, there is consistently a wealth of knowledge and experience around us!

William E. Beale Photographs

This past week, through the Virginia Baptist Historical Society, we discovered about 25 photographs of the Westhampton campus that were taken by William Elton Beale, a Richmond College freshman in 1915. More specifically, the discovery was of several negative filmstrips that contained images of Beale’s prints. This was exciting because not only are they some of the only student-taken photographs we have of the campus during its opening years, but it also provided us with a fun opportunity to photograph negatives. After a couple of tries working with our light box and various camera settings, we were off and rolling with the digitization.

Lightbox set-up for photographing negative film.

Lightbox set-up for photographing negative film.

Once we completed the digitization process, we were even more excited to view the new images. Some of the pictures included buildings that we had not yet found photographic evidence of, such as the science building (which burned down in 1925) that was originally beside the steam plant. One of my personal favorites was an image of the trolley that brought students from the city all the way out to the “rural” Westhampton campus. Several more of Beale’s photographs included campus highlights like Ryland Hall, Sarah Brunet Memorial Hall, and of course, landscape shots of the lake.

The Science Hall, which burned down in 1925, was originally next to the Steam Plant.

The Science Hall, which burned down in 1925, was originally next to the Steam Plant.

The trolley brought students from the city to the Westhampton campus.

The trolley brought students from the city to the Westhampton campus.

Sarah Brunet Memorial Hall, also known as the Refectory, was built to be a dining hall.

Sarah Brunet Memorial Hall, also known as the Refectory, was built to be a dining hall.

While the majority of the images were of buildings and landscapes on campus, there was a single photograph of one of Beale’s classmates, who we have identified as “Burt” Robins, based on the 1915 Spider yearbook. In the photograph, Robins is wearing a baseball uniform with the words “Peconut Crisp” on his jersey. The words were a mystery to us at first, but after some searching, we found an advertisement in the Southern Planter that described Peconut Crisp as a candy made by the Westmoreland Candy Company, located in Richmond, during the time Beale and Robins would have been in school. It seems most likely that the candy name found itself on the jersey because the company sponsored a baseball game or team.

Bertram "Burt" L. Robins

Bertram “Burt” L. Robins with a “Peconut Crisp” uniform.

Advertisement for Peconut Crisp in The Southern Planter

Advertisement for Peconut Crisp in The Southern Planter

The images gathered from Beale’s photographs were a really exciting find for us. We were happy to see pictures from campus that we had not previously found and just as glad to practice our negative film photography. While it would have been even more exciting to see the original film, we couldn’t be more pleased with these recent additions to our Centennial collection.

Student Employees Make a Successful Year

As the school year comes to a close here at Boatwright Memorial Library and we reflect on everything we have accomplished since last summer, we can’t help but wonder how it would have all been achieved without the help of our phenomenal student employees. In our department, Discovery, Technology, & Publishing, we have 13 student employees, including two who will be graduating in just a few days (we’ll miss you!).  Chances are, if you have seen a really cool digital project or found a neatly labeled book in the stacks, one of our students helped to make that possible.

Amy, Moe, and Sam at the Student Employee Luncheon sponsored by the Friends of the Library

Amy, Moe, and Sam at the Student Employee Luncheon sponsored by the Friends of the Library.

Student employees in Discovery, Technology, & Publishing (DTP) perform a wide variety of tasks that require creativity, responsibility and ingenuity. Some of the duties that students take on for us include digitization for Interlibrary Loan (if you got your article request in the blink of an eye, a student employee helped with that!), photographing archival material, image editing, computer programming and website development, copy-cataloging, labeling, discards, and various stacks maintenance tasks.  On top of their regular jobs, we often have students who venture out of the realm of DTP to help other departments who need assistance.

Do you remember the Westhampton scrapbook that was discussed in an earlier blog post? A huge amount of the work done to complete the interactive scrapbook it has become was done by Amy, one of our student employees. She and another former student employee, Michael, collaborated to build a dynamic map of UR student hometowns with data that three other students, Jeremy, Scott, and Dodo, worked many hours to collect. Both of these fun endeavors will premier with the launching of our digital project celebrating the centennial of the UR Westhampton campus in June. Furthermore, many of the archival images you will see on the website were photographed by camera-operator extraordinaire, Jackie, a student employee who is also interested in pursuing graduate work in the library and information sciences.

Jackie frequently works in our camera studio photographing archival material.

Jackie frequently works in our camera studio photographing archival material.

The jobs that student employees complete for our department are imperative to our operations running smoothly, but truly the best thing about having them work here is the fact that they remind us daily why we want to make this the best library it can be: to be a useful, helpful and memorable part of student life. It may sound like I’m doting upon them, but if you worked with this bunch of students, you would, too!

Centennial Project – Fannie Graves Crenshaw

Just as her colleague May Keller holds a prominent place in University of Richmond memory, Fannie (also spelled Fanny) Graves Crenshaw is a celebrated faculty member who appears in stories throughout campus history. As a member of the University of Richmond Trustees’ Honor Roll of Distinguished Faculty, Administrators and Staff, Crenshaw is one of the longest serving faculty members that the University has seen, with a tenure beginning in 1914 and retirement in 1955. Crenshaw was hired as Athletic Director at Westhampton College when the doors first opened and remained in that position (with a slight title change to the more modern “Director of Physical Education”) throughout her career.

Born January 17, 1890, Fannie Crenshaw was a bit of a Renaissance woman for her time. With her hometown being right here in Richmond, Virginia, Crenshaw traveled North for her undergraduate degree at Bryn Mawr College as well as graduate work at Columbia University. It seems that Crenshaw must have enjoyed her time at Bryn Mawr, because she is frequently seen in photographs wearing her college sweater. Though her specialty was in Physical Education, Crenshaw also taught Math and History at St. Catherine’s upon her return to Richmond and start at Westhampton College. Furthermore, during her summer breaks from the college, Crenshaw traveled back north to continue working at summer camps.

During her first years at Westhampton College, Crenshaw not only taught all of the Physical Education classes but also coached all of the women’s sports teams. She was an enthusiastic proponent of Field Hockey and, under her direction, Westhampton College became of the first schools in Virginia to adopt the game as a sport. Crenshaw continued to coach varsity sports all the way up until her retirement. In fact, students seemed to adore her so much that she continued to be a subject of campus news stories well after her retirement.

(This information was adapted from Faces on the Wall by Woodford B. Hackley)


Centennial Project – Dean May Lansfield Keller

As we discussed in our previous posts about the Centennial Project, one of the most interesting aspects of doing research was discovering multiple scrapbooks that chronicled the lives of typical students who attended Richmond College during the establishment of the new campus at Westhampton.  In addition to the “everyday” student, though, larger personalities began to emerge not only from the scrapbooks, but also through yearbooks, photographs, and correspondence. May Keller, the first Dean of Westhampton College, was one of these intriguing personalities.

Born in 1877, May Lansfield Keller spent the first part of her life in Baltimore, Maryland, which included her college years. She received her B.A. from Goucher College before moving to Germany and earning her Ph.D. from the University of Heidelberg in 1904. In becoming the first Dean of Westhampton College in 1914,  Keller also became the first female college dean in Virginia. In accordance with her own education, she believed strongly in both a liberal arts course of study as well as equal educational opportunities for women.  Furthermore, as both a dean and professor of English, she seemed to be very involved with her students, attending functions in North Court and even portraying Juliet in a Shakespeare festival on campus. The large part she played in the students’ time at Westhampton is evidenced by her frequent inclusion in their memories, such as a scrapbook. In fact, multiple photographic portraits of Dean May Keller are pasted into Florence Smith’s scrapbook. Keller retired in 1946, but was still seen around campus walking her dogs and passing on bits of advice to her successors.

(This information and more can be found in A Gem of a College: The History of Westhampton College 1914-1989 by Claire Millhiser Rosenbaum and Faces on the Wall by Woodford B. Hackley).