New Words for Dictionary Day


October 16 is Dictionary Day, marking the birthday of the great lexicographer Noah Webster in 1758.

How to celebrate?

Perhaps one could peruse the more-or-less direct descendants of Mr. Webster’s work in the Merriam-Webster Unabridged database, to which the Washington and Lee University subscribes.  Last month the editors released a list of over 530 new words and new meanings, not counting over 4,000 other revisions.  Just to give students of the English language something (else) to argue about, this most recent update provides further support for the use of the “singular they” — even the once-unthinkable themself.   Can Western civilization survive?

The New York Review of Books recently published a fascinating article on the early development of American dictionaries, including Webster’s work.

Another way to celebrate might be to take note of the Oxford English Dictionary‘s recent announcement of 650+ additions to its etymological database, with newly-researched and -consecrated words and new meanings for existing words.  For example, there  are now three — count ’em, three — meanings for the term slam dunk.  And we now have established that the contemporary meanings of fake news have predecessors extending back at least as far as 1890.   The editors of the OED offer an entertaining essay on these new updates, including the linguistic contributions of George Lucas and Theresa May, as well as an explanation of the development of the term anchor baby.   The W&L University Library provides a subscription to the OED for current students, faculty, and staff.

Happy Birthday, Noah!


Noah Webster by James Herring, from the National Portrait Gallery.

16 Things Every First Year Should Know About The Library


Boiling it down to the essentials, the University Library offers 16 Things Every First Year Should Know About the Library .   Other students, too, of course.

Obviously, this brief list does not cover everything a W&L first-year student might need to know about our libraries and about doing research at W&L.   Our librarians will be involved in quite a few classes in the academic year, including teaching several DCI courses, so that is a great way to share information about libraries and student research at W&L.   But if you have questions right now, feel free to ask at the Information Desk on Leyburn Library’s Main Floor or contact us via e-mail.

Welcome (back) to W&L!


Carrels in Leyburn Library and Telford Library


Undergraduate students who are interested in a modest home-away-from-home in Leyburn Library or Telford Science Library might consider registering for a carrel during the first couple of days of Fall Term.  Registration starts on the first day of class, Thursday 5 September.   We have detailed information on carrel registration, including floor maps, but here is the short version:

Leyburn Library — beginning 7:30 AM on Thursday 5 September
Find a suitable Leyburn Library carrel on Lower Level 1, 2, 3, or 4 (not the Main Floor) and take its registration slip to the Information Desk on the Main Floor.
Telford Science Library — beginning 7:30 AM on Thursday 5 September
Find a suitable Telford Science Library carrel on Level 3 or 4 and take its registration slip to the Circulation Desk on Level 3.   Two students will be assigned to each carrel.


In related news…  On that same first day of classes (Thursday 5 September), both Leyburn Library and Telford Science Library will return to the customary open-24-hours-a-day, seven-days-per-week schedule.  Students wanting to enter either library after 10:00 PM will need to swipe their W&L ID cards.

A very limited number of locked studies are available, with priority given to students writing honors theses.  If interested, please use the link on this page to apply no later than 11:59 PM on Thursday 5 September.

Mock Convention Research


If the news media are pillar-to-post about presidential primary campaigns, you know Washington and Lee University’s Mock Convention cannot be far off.    And, sure enough, Mock Con Weekend is now less than six months away and our students already are working on political research and other preparations.

For years the W&L University Library has been proud to assist Mock Con students with their research efforts, usually focusing on the work of state delegates looking into electoral patterns and histories, economic and demographic factors, public opinion, and anything else that seems relevant to accurately forecasting a U.S. state’s behavior in upcoming presidential primaries.   For at least 15 years, that assistance has included the preparation and ongoing revision of an online research guide, which is available to W&L students (and faculty and staff) from both on-campus and just about any off-campus locations.

If you are curious about previous incarnations of this  research guide, here is the 2004 guide.


Streaming Video for W&L


Video or film in streaming form has lots of advantages for teaching and learning, especially for classes in which a number of students all need to watch the same program — access from multiple locations (including off-campus), the possibility of multiple viewings simultaneously, on-demand availability in classrooms, and the ability to place links in course syllabi or online sites.  Admittedly, streaming comes with its own set of issues, with the cost probably the most challenging.

Mostly because of course-related demand from our faculty, the Washington and Lee University Library increasingly is purchasing — or leasing — access to streaming video from a variety of suppliers and then making that material available to the current W&L campus community through our online site.  Generally, we do not perpetually “own” streaming content, but rather lease it for various periods of time or have access as part of a large collection whose contents come and go for commercial and/or legal reasons, beyond our control.  (You may have experience the same thing with Netflix.)

Our selection of streaming films has grown to the point that it’s become a challenge to tell people what we have.  As a result, we have assembled a webpage that lists the primary options available to current students. faculty, and staff:

If you have questions, or want to investigate streaming possibilities for curricular use, please contact Senior Reference Librarian Dick Grefe.


Library Databases for W&L Graduates


One of the benefits of a being a Washington and Lee student is having access to dozens of commercially-published databases which enable researchers to make use of many thousands of academic journals, newspapers and magazines, books, data sources and analyses, and other materials.

Alas, one of the basic rules of institutional subscriptions to such databases is that use is restricted to current students, faculty, and staff.    Thus, our graduating seniors lose access to nearly all of these resources as they transition from W&L students to W&L alumni.

The W&L University Library, through the financial support of our wonderful Friends of the Library group, is able to provide our alumni with ongoing access to a selection of important “article databases,” including:

  • Academic Search (Alumni Edition)
  • Business Source (Alumni Edition)
  • Project Muse

Access to these products is controlled through W&L’s  Office of Alumni Engagement as one their Colonnade Connections online options.  There are two basic steps to using these databases:

  1. First, set up your own Colonnade Connections login (ID and password) via this link:
  2. Once you are officially registered, use this link and your personal ID and password to gain access to the databases listed above:

W&L alumni who have questions about using these databases can contact the University Library via this general-purpose online form or one of the direct links to our staff.  If you have questions about the Colonnade Connections program, please contact Molly Myers, Assistant Director of Digital Communications for Alumni Engagement.


Thanks to Graduating Student Workers!


Some of the employees in Leyburn Library and Telford Library might look just a bit younger than the rest of us.   Those would be our student workers, who truly make it possible for the University Library to provide the resources and services which help define a Washington and Lee education.

Each spring we recognize the graduating seniors who have worked with us as student workers by purchasing a book of their choice, perhaps related to their major, their research, and/or their personal interest, and then placing a dedicatory bookplate in the front of the volume.  These books and their bookplates, along with a little information about each student, will be on display on the Main Floor of Leyburn Library through the week of Commencement.

We enthusiastically thank these young women and young men whose work and spirit have done so much to enhance the University Library.   We wish you the best of luck — and we will miss you!


Access Services

Allan Blenman – Supernatural & Philosophy: Metaphysics & Monsters …for Idjits

Austin Smith – On the Road

Brittany Smith – Milton and the Making of Paradise Lost

Soon Ho Kwon – The Courage to be Disliked

Courtney Jenkins- Lipscomb – Stealing From God

Alex Dolwick – Running Flow

Ford Gassaway – Frederick II:  A Medieval Emperor

Megan Doherty – Parkland: Birth of a Movement

Dianluca Carrilho-Malta – Crisis Cultures: The Rise of Finance in Mexico and Brazil

Yoko Koama – Kafka on the Shore


Access Services and Research Help

Hammad Ahmad – The Guernsey Literary & Potato Peel Pie Society


Research Help

Anukriti Shrestha – The Martian

Leila Lubin – So Much Reform, So Little Change

Katherine Cheng – A Walk Across America


Digital Humanities

Aiden Valente – The Spirit of the Liturgy

Jenny Bagger – American War Poetry

Patrick Rothfuss – The Name of the Wind

Katherine Dau – Vienna: Art and Architecture


Special Collections

Claude Miller – Skate the World

George Washington (Books) Still Hot


We are about twenty years into the 21st century and interest in George Washington shows no signs of flagging.

As of early April, the University Library of Washington and Lee University already has added to its collections five books on Washington published in 2019.  The links below take you to entries in the University Library’s Primo database.

Not enough?  Here is a link to Primo’s list of books and book-like items “about” Washington (as defined by the Library of Congress).


Revolutionary: George Washington at War


Dear George, Dear Mary



Kurt Vonnegut and W&L


Early spring of 1969 was a time in America fraught with anxiety.  Richard Nixon recently had been inaugurated as President of the United States as the Vietnam War bled into another decade.  It had been almost exactly one year since Martin Luther King was assassinated.  It felt a bit like history was off the rails.

And then a novel appeared which gave new meaning to the idea of history becoming unhinged, while also giving an additional twist to William Faulkner’s declaration that the past is not past.

Kurt Vonnegut’s masterpiece Slaughterhouse Five was published in the early spring of 1969, almost exactly fifty years ago.   The New York Times‘ reviewer declared Vonnegut’s sixth novel “an extraordinary success.  It is a book we need to read, and to reread.”  The American Scholar compared the author to George Orwell.  And Washington and Lee’s own Tom Wolfe would go on to say, “I guess he’s the closest thing we had to a Voltaire.”   Appreciations commemorating the 50th anniversary of this masterpiece are beginning to appear now in early 2019, including an extraordinarily thoughtful essay in the New York Times by Kevin Powers.

Kurt Vonnegut came to Washington and Lee University in 2003, speaking in Lee Chapel on Tuesday 4 February.  As far as we can tell, the only account in the Ring Tum Phi was a captioned photograph on the first page of the 10 February 2003 issue, with the great man at a table in the Southern Inn.  The photo appears beneath the cryptic headline “Don’t Use Semicolons.”    A more contemplative account was contributed by then-University Photographer Patrick Hinely (’73) to the Alumni Magazine.

It is not always true that public presentations at W&L by eminent visitors are preserved for future appreciation, but we got lucky with Vonnegut’s 2003 talk.   Several of our librarians found a DVD recording in a box in Special Collections and others worked to “translate” that video into an Internet-friendly format.   Thus, it is thanks to Tom Camden, Seth McCormick, and Paula Kiser that we are able to present video of Kurt Vonnegut at W&L in 2003.   So it goes.



Another Book of the Week — Fraternity


One research topic of perpetual interest at Washington and Lee University is the Greek system — fraternities and sororities.

Best-selling author Alexandra Robbins recently contributed to the ever-growing collection of reliably controversial works on these groups with the publication of her book Fraternity: An Inside Look at a Year of College Boys Becoming Men (Dutton, 2019).   The book just arrived in our collection and the call number is included in its description in our Primo database.

Author Robbins describes her investigations which resulted in the book in an article in The Atlantic.