Category Archives: Workshops

MakerSpace Pop-up

This past Wednesday, a beautiful spring day brought another MakerSpace Pop-up to Tyler Haynes Commons here at the University of Richmond. Although there is no official MakerSpace on the university campus, there is a MakerSpace working group made up of interested staff and faculty. At the popup, members of the working group were showing off tools, explaining processes, and teaching skills to whomever stopped by.


On display for hands on fun and experimentation were littleBits circuits, soft circuits, a drone, 3D printed prosthetics, Legos, a Raspberry Pi computer, virtual reality headsets, light-up bookmark making, book binding supplies, maker chests, and crochet!


Look for the next MakerSpace popup and stop by.




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

DTP in Classroom Collaborations

We (Leigh McDonald and Chris Kemp) were given the opportunity to be involved in an undergraduate class last semester: The Historian’s Workshop, taught by Dr. Nicole Sackley. The course immersed students in the worlds of archives, digital libraries, museums and public history. The students were each placed in the roles of researcher and expert while working with one of Boatwright’s largely unprocessed archival collections, the Congressional Papers of Watkins Moorman Abbitt. Each of the eleven students was assigned a box of archival materials from the collection to work with, and Lynda Kachurek (Head of Rare Books and Special Collections) instructed them on archival processing methods. The students read and examined all of the documents in “their box,” and selected representative materials to describe and display in an online exhibit.

That’s where Discovery, Technology and Publishing came in. We digitized materials and launched an Omeka site to present them. We also presented three metadata workshops to the students, which focused on how to examine a document’s contents, effectively describe it, and upload it into Omeka. Since the students were the experts on their particular materials, there would be no one better equipped to provide in-depth descriptions of each item. Leigh and Chris randomly selected a document already digitized from those chosen by the students, worked through the Dublin Core metadata fields as examples, prepped our materials and headed into the workshops feeling prepared for anything. That randomly selected document turned out to be a much better lesson for the students and for us than we had imagined.


Letter from W. E. Skelton to W. M. Abbitt

The document above is the one we chose. It seems pretty simple on the surface – a piece of correspondence between a constituent and his congressman regarding the work of the Agricultural Extension Service agents in his district – and we suggested describing it accordingly. An attached report described a rat control campaign in the Hampton Roads area and included statistics on the rat population in the U.S. Therefore, the first Library of Congress Subject Heading we suggested was, of course, “Rats”.

During the workshop, however, Professor Sackley asked the student why he chose this particular document and his response was enlightening. Because he had gained some perspective on Congressman Abbitt and his tenure from studying the documents in his box, he read the documents as a rather elegant but subtle plea for the need for African-American workers in his division, not just an informational letter about pest control. The line, “We are extremely limited in staff and cannot be ‘all things to all people,’” was the hint. Based on this, it was then possible to complete the metadata description more accurately by adding terms such as: African American agricultural extension workers and Virginia Polytechnic Institute’s Agricultural Extension Service. We would not necessarily have picked up on the full significance of the document without the student’s input, which illustrates the analytical skills the students brought to the table when selecting documents from the collection. We are sure that similar conversations could have occurred regarding many other documents in the collection.

Given the subject matter of this archival collection and the course readings, the students expected to find much on the topic of massive resistance to school integration in Virginia, but they discovered so much more. Students uncovered numerous interesting documents, including an exchange between Abbitt and then-Texas senator Lyndon Johnston, a letter from a high school senior regarding the statehood of Hawaii, and a pamphlet listing the names of supposed communists in Hollywood, California. All of these findings brought to life the people and the historical period, and gave the students a perspective on the times that would have been absent without access to the primary sources.

The work the students did last fall was impressive on many levels, but it only scratched the surface of what the Abbitt Papers contain. Abbitt was a congressman from 1948-1973, and his archival collection is made up of 285 boxes of material. Fortunately, Professor Sackley is going to teach the course once more in the fall of 2015. We in DTP are looking forward to getting back into the classroom with students once again, and learning right along with them.

See the fruits of the students’ labor at the course’s dedicated Omeka site, which is publicly available but still “in the workshop”:

Hear directly from the students at the Historian’s Workshop blog:

And read a feature news story about the course on the UR Website:

Written by Chris Kemp and Leigh McDonald

Bookbinding with Brien Beidler at the Charleston Library Society ~ Part I


The Charleston Library Society

The Charleston Library Society

When I was visiting family in the Charleston, South Carolina area last year, I came upon an article about a young man, Brien Beidler, who was hired in 2012 to be the Bindery Director at the Charleston Library Society at the age of 22! He had previously worked in the Addlestone Library when he was a student at the College of Charleston. Brien’s story stuck with me and several months ago I contacted him about the possibility of visiting with him the next time I was in the area. I had high hopes that I might learn from him in any way that I could. Brien replied almost immediately and was so enthusiastic and encouraging that I quickly realized I had contacted someone who would be a great supporter in my forays into the world of bookbinding and book arts. Brien is eager to share his own passion for books and bookbinding and he is even more enthusiastic when he recognizes someone who has the potential to share his passion for and appreciation of this almost lost art form.



Last week I had the good fortune to spend four days with Brien in his bindery at the Charleston Library Society. Brien guided me in completing my first two German 4 piece case-bound books. He was kind, encouraging, supportive, and patient as he enthusiastically shared his knowledge and experience while I tried to absorb everything that he and his doppelgänger assistant, James Davis, were able to demonstrate and teach me.

James and Brien

James and Brien

Before I address the actual book binding process and the true joy I felt in creating something so beautiful and useful from start to finish with my own two hands, I want to tell you a little bit about Brien.  Brien has achieved a level of success that few in their mid-twenties can claim. Part of Brien’s success at such a young age can be attributed to luck – being in the right place at the right time. However, more importantly, his success can be attributed to a combination of his positive attitude, his initiative, his dedication, and his determination to continue learning, along with the support he received along the way. Brien is quick to credit those who have supported, encouraged, and mentored him from the beginning. I was fortunate enough to meet one of the people who helped Brien as he started on his journey to become a bona fide Book Binder, Marie Ferrara. Marie recently retired from her position as the Head of Special Collections in the Addlestone Library at the College of Charleston and moved away from the area, but she was in town for a brief visit and Brien invited me to join them for lunch. Brien’s admiration for Marie was evident during our lunch as he eagerly showed her some of his most recent binding efforts that included two books bound in hand hewn wood with his own handmade elaborate brass clasps. Brien had recently spent time in Idaho at a medieval binding workshop with Jim Croft and was so inspired and proud of his creations and experiences that his enthusiasm was infectious. Marie exhibited an equal admiration for Brien and will clearly continue to be a positive influence in his life and work. Brien has also received tremendous support and encouragment from Anne Cleveland, the Executive Director of the Charleston Library Society, who graciously stopped in to meet me during my time in the bindery. Coincidentally, both Marie and Anne have connections to Virginia, having attended school in the Charlottesville area.

In the end, however, Brien is successful because of the time, effort, and thought that he puts into his work. He lives and breathes books and bookbinding. When he is not physically working, he is reading about books and bookbinding. He continually looks for opportunities to learn new things related to bookbinding. He also enjoys making his own bone folders and other hand tools. His work takes time and that time is often spent alone in the bindery I asked Brien if he gets lonely in his seemingly solitary work (James is a recent addition and is only around for a half day) and he said that he is always surprised by that question but that he gets it often. In fact, he isn’t at all lonely in his work – partly because, as I noticed over the four days, there is no time to be lonely. Time passes very quickly when you are focused and engrossed in the physical work of binding and creating.  Brien also has a constant companion, his two-year old Brittany spaniel, Wren. Wren has perhaps one of the sweetest temperaments of any dog I have ever met. She has clearly been lovingly well-trained and often accompanies Brien to his bindery.



Brien is also not lonely in his work because he reaches out and networks with others who are as equally excited, passionate and inspired by bookbinding, and book and paper arts. He is the co-founder, along with artist Kris Westerson, of the recently established Charleston Book Union. Thanks to Brien I was able to meet Kris and another member and artist, Jocelyn Chateauvert during the fast four days I spent in Charleston.

Perhaps one of the most important things I learned during my time with Brien, after learning that it takes a lot of time to properly bind a single book (and we were not even working with leather), is how inclusive and supportive the small but worldwide community of bookbinders and book and paper artists is. I have long lurked on the Book Arts listserv and now feel less intimidated and more inspired than ever to connect with and learn from this creative and inspiring community. I can’t thank Brien enough for being so gracious and supportive and willing to share some of his experience and knowledge with me.

Next time: What I made during my time “Bookbinding with Brien Beidler at the Charleston Library Society ~ Part II”

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!