JARS v52n2 - Alderman Library: Repository for ARS Documents

Alderman Library: Repository for ARS Documents
A Trip Through the Special Collections
Sandra F. McDonald
Hampton, Virginia

At the Oct. 24, 1997, ARS board meeting in Allentown, Pennsylvania, the formation of a new library committee was approved by the board. The Alderman Library of the University of Virginia has been the official repository for ARS documents for about 10 years, and a committee to work with the library had never been formed. This new committee's duties will be to coordinate work between ARS and the University of Virginia Library at Charlottesville in securing ARS records, manuscripts, and other relevant materials for preservation at the Library. ARS President "Bud" Gehnrich appointed me chairman of the new committee and I set out to define the committee.

At the Alderman Library is old friend and Associate University Librarian Kendon Stubbs, a long-time member of ARS. Jeanne Hammer, another friend and ARS member, is also at the library. Former ARS President Austin Kennell of Waynesboro, Virginia, and Harry Wise of Charleston, West Virginia, worked with the library a number of years ago to set up a working relationship between ARS and the library and to give them records and books for the rhododendron manuscript and book collections, respectively. The library obtains their materials by gift or by purchase. They used to have deposit agreements but have discontinued that practice.

The Middle Atlantic Chapter had also started funding a Rhododendron and Azalea Book Fund at the library, which several chapter members strongly supported, most especially Mrs. Gladys J. Wheeldon, widow of the late Dr. Thomas Foster Wheeldon, who was a recipient of the ARS Gold Medal and a founding member of the Chapter. This fund has enabled the library to buy many rare and out-of-print rhododendron books and build a very fine collection.

Kendon Stubbs learned about ARS's interest in having a special committee to work with the Library when I started e-mailing him for preliminary information at the request of Bud Gehnrich, well before the October board meeting. After the board meeting when I was officially appointed committee chairman, Kendon invited me to the Alderman Library for an official tour through the Special Collections. I was delighted to accept and my husband Ken and my first committee appointee, David Lay, also were happy to come on the tour.

Alderman Library with Ken McDonald,
David Lay, and Kendon Stubbs
Front of the Alderman Library with Ken McDonald,
David Lay, and Kendon Stubbs by doorway.
Photo by Sandra F. McDonald

Kendon met us at his office on the fifth floor of the Library and outlined the schedule he had prepared for us. We were to see a demonstration of how materials are received and processed to be added to the collection; we were to see a demonstration of accessing the manuscripts collection through the World Wide Web; we were to visit the rare books collection; and we were to visit the Science and Engineering Library to see the regular collection of rhododendron books and Journals on the shelves.

In the Special Collections manuscripts processing area we met Michael Plunkett, Director of Special Collections, and Sharon Defibaugh, Technical Services Assistant. Ms. Defibaugh has been processing many kinds of manuscripts, including rhododendron manuscripts, for many years. She amazed us with the knowledge she had accumulated about the rhododendron world in spite of being a non-ARS member. She knew about many of the famous names through her careful work with the manuscripts.

Ms. Defibaugh had just received two boxes of manuscript material of the late Dr. Martha Roane, a plant pathologist from Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University at Blacksburg, who had edited a book with Dr. Duane L. Coyier titled Compendium of Rhododendron and Azalea Diseases and had also done a taxonomic key for North American rhododendrons. Ms. Defibaugh was starting to process these manuscripts, typescripts, correspondence, negatives, photographs, news clippings, journal articles, and material from her association with the ARS. She demonstrated how the materials are put into non-acid folders, sometimes with non-acid paper protectors, and into non-acid boxes. The non-acid paper protectors prevent acid paper from damaging adjoining papers. The manuscripts are stored under controlled temperature conditions. According to Ms. Defibaugh, the collection determines the order. She tries not to violate the original order and wants the material to be in an order useful to researchers. A variety of types of material is received. Besides papers, the Roane collection had several interesting items including negatives of photomicrographs. There is one special collection in rhododendron manuscripts, the Edward L. Manigault Slides of Rhododendrons and Azaleas, which is color slides. Information can also be accepted for Special Collections in electronic format.

Ms. Defibaugh creates accession records or Virgo sheets when inventorying the incoming material. The Virgo sheets are put on the Internet and are available to people all over the world through the World Wide Web site. The Virgo site: http://virgo.lib.virginia.edu/ can be accessed to search the University's electronic card catalog. Most university libraries and other large libraries can be accessed this way today.

Print-out of the Henry T. Skinner
Print-out of the Henry T. Skinner record.
Photo by Sandra F. McDonald

The Special Collections are open for reference and copying. Special permission from ARS is needed to publish its material. Some of the items in the rhododendron and azalea special collection are manuscripts of rhododendron pioneers, American Rhododendron Society papers, chapter newsletters (sent to the library from the ARS Executive Director), papers of George Fraser and Roy Clark, August Kehr and others, and former U.S. National Arboretum Director Dr. Henry Skinner's trip diaries from his native azalea collecting trips through the Southeastern United States.

Dr. Skinner's papers are a frequently used resource at the library both for scholarly research and for people interested in his collecting trip itinerary and plant locations. Some of Dr. Skinner's correspondents include Ezra Taft Benson, Earl Butz, Henry F. Dupont, S.I. Hayakawa, Lady Bird Johnson, August Kehr, George S. McGovern, Martha Prince, Herman E. Talmadge, Charles Van Ravenswaay, John C. Wister, and Anthony Montague Rowe for Sir Winston Churchill.

The library prefers original material, but in some cases when originals are not yet available, they do accept copies of old letters. Papers of the rhododendron pioneers, the Society, and individuals prominent in the Society are accepted, although the library prefers not to have financial records. The materials are accepted as gifts to the library. In special cases of valuable materials, a deed of gift is available.

After observing activities in the processing of incoming manuscripts, we went to see Elizabeth Slomba, Project Supervisor, American Heritage Virtual Archive Project, to see a demonstration of searching for materials in the rhododendron and azalea collection on the World Wide Web. The Special Collections web site is one of the most beautiful I have seen with a soft yellow background and marbled paper pattern in shades of blue and brown. Ms. Slomba put my name into the system and came up with some material concerning me. She printed out several pages of material from the web site for us. The day of our visit, Dec. 9, 1997, was declared the official date of the unveiling of the online guides.

The Special Collections Digital Center provides digital access to the resources of the Special Collections Department of the University Library. The staff at the center scans print, manuscript and other materials from the Special Collections Department for inclusion in printed or World Wide Web documents. A major digital collection is the Thomas Jefferson Papers, 3,000 original documents by the third president of the United States and founder of the University of Virginia. Ms. Slomba showed us one of Thomas Jefferson's letters on the web site. It was amazing to see Jefferson's handwriting and signature on the monitor screen in color.

Four universities, the University of California at Berkeley, Duke University, Stanford University, and the University of Virginia, have NEH (National Endowment for the Humanities) grants for digitizing material for the World Wide Web. The project is mainly historical papers and early American books. The University of Virginia is ahead of schedule on the project and is able to spend a little time on the rhododendron project. While we were visiting, we saw workers from the Smithsonian Institution visiting the Library and learning to digitize materials in the digitizing room, a room set up with special lighting and equipment off the Rare Books area.

Dr. Henry Skinner's trip
Dr. Henry Skinner's trip diaries.
Photo by Sandra F. McDonald

We went to the Rare Books area of Special Collections after visiting the Virtual Archive Project. The rare books are kept under lock and key because of their value. In the Rare Books area Kendon had brought out some special materials. He had Dr. Skinner's famous trip diaries from the Manuscripts Collection and some beautiful old rhododendron books. There were two lovely old volumes, Rhododendrons by John Guille Millais published in 1917 by Longmans, Green and Co. of London and New York, and Rhododendrons and the Various Hybrids , second series, also by John Guille Millais and published in 1924 by the same company. There were wonderful hand-colored plates in both of these volumes. We also saw the book Illustrations of the Botany and Other Branches of the Natural History of the Himalayan Mountains, and of the Flora of Cashmere by J. Forbes Royle, published in London by Wm. H. Allen and Co., in 1839.

Color plate from Rhododendrons
by J.G. Millais, 1917. Van Nes No. 149, R. 'Diphole Pink', R. 'Horsham'. Color plate from
Rhododendrons by J.G. Millais, 1917. R. lepidotum and R. anthopogon.
Color plate from Rhododendrons by J.G. Millais, 1917.
Van Nes No. 149, R. 'Diphole Pink', R. 'Horsham'.
Photo by Sandra F. McDonald
Color plate from Rhododendrons by J.G. Millais, 1917.
R. lepidotum and R. anthopogon .
Photo by Sandra F. McDonald

After being in the exalted atmosphere of rare books, manuscripts, and high-tech digitizing of guides for the World Wide Web, we rounded out our visit by going to the Science and Engineering Library to see the general collection of rhododendron books and journals. We went down a narrow staircase and into the crowded stacks where we found what appears to be a full run of the ARS Journal as well as all the rhododendron books of which we were aware. These stacks are available to students and researchers.

To sum up our impressions from this enlightening day, committee member David Lay, who collects old books, enjoyed seeing the inner workings of the library and may even upgrade his wife's computer so he can get on the World Wide Web; my husband Ken was impressed with the immense detail the library took in, organized, processed, and made into guides available on the World Wide Web; I was fascinated with everything I saw on the tour and look forward to taking another trip to the Library and also want to utilize the rhododendron resources on the World Wide Web site from my home. I hope to facilitate securing more important manuscripts for the collection in my position as chairman of this new library committee and personally I want to support the Rhododendron and Azalea Book Fund.

The mailing address for the Special Collections is Special Collections, Alderman Library, University of Virginia, Charlottesville, VA 22903-2498.

Dr. McDonald, a member of the Middle Atlantic Chapter, is chairman of the new ARS Library Committee and the ARS Editorial Committee. In the Spring 1996 issue she co-authored an article on a trip to Gregory Bald.