To Kill A Mockingbird


Harper Lee passed away today.

In surveys asking which book every “civilized person” should read, her Pulitzer Prize-winning To Kill A Mockingbird consistently is ranked either first or second, at least among Americans.

What did critics think when the book was first published in 1960?   The University Library’s subscription to the historical New York Times database allows us to see the first two Times reviews of the novel, one by Frank Lyell and one by Herbert Mitgang.   As Lyell writes, “it could be the basis of an excellent film.”

Among the printed copies in Leyburn Library is a non-circulating first edition, housed in Special Collections as part of the Roger Mudd Collection.


Scientific Equipment Exposed!


A newly-mounted exhibit in Leyburn Library features antique scientific equipment from the Washington and Lee University Department of Physics and Engineering.  These items may be viewed in the Boatwright Reading Room in Special Collections, on Lower Level 1.

Some of these materials have been displayed in by the library before, while additional items were uncovered during a guided tour by Professor Emeritus Tom Williams of the Science Center “attic.”    Among the discoveries revealed during this most recent exploration was an original Michael Miley x-ray photograph of a broken foot.

If you have questions about this new exhibit, please contact the curator, Seth McCormick-Goodhart.

1972 Mock Con Gifts


‘Tis the season for Mock Convention.

We recently announced two new displays of Mock Convention materials.  And now the Washington and Lee University Library is pleased to announce that our already-extensive Mock Con archive housed in Special Collections is newly enhanced by generous gifts from alumnus Ben Sherman (’75).

Among the memorabilia donated by Mr. Sherman are several items from the 1972 Mock Convention, most notably the original typed manuscript which he used to place Hubert H. Humphrey in nomination, as well as a press copy of then-Georgia Governor Jimmy Carter’s May 5th keynote address.   Before forwarding the Carter document to Special Collections, Ben mailed the manuscript to President Carter with a request that he autograph the item.  The piece was quickly returned to Mr. Sherman with a very strong, bold signature in black ink in the upper left quadrant of the first page.

In addition, this Sherman gift includes two Humphrey for President posters.  One proudly proclaims “Humphrey the People’s Democrat,” while the other states “People Care About Humphrey Because He Cares About People.”

These four items will be on display in the Special Collections Reading Room until after the 2016 Mock Convention.

Mock Con History and Memorabilia


The University Library’s Special Collections has mounted two new exhibits which display materials from the history of Washington and Lee University’s Mock Convention.  Both exhibits are now on display in the lobby area on Lower Level 1 in Leyburn Library, between Northen Auditorium and the Special Collections area.

One collection is entitled “Famous Last Words: Senator Alben W. Barkley and the 1956 W&L Mock Convention” and documents the 1956 W&L Democratic Mock Convention and Alben W. Barkley’s famous keynote address, a speech which ended with the speaker’s fatal heart attack.   This display presents materials from the Scrapbook Collection of Carl Swanson, who was the Student Chairman of the 1956 Convention.

In addition to these physical items, we also can provide audio of Senator Barkley’s speech and silent video footage which includes the 1956 Mock Convention parade and a portion of Barkley’s speech.   Important note: To access each of these media excerpts, click on the “View/Open” link in the center of the introductory page.

The second exhibit is entitled “Mock Con in the Archives” and consists of printed matter chronologically documenting the rich history and tradition of the W&L Mock Convention, 1908–2012.  The collection includes programs, posters, and memorabilia collected and preserved by the W&L Special Collections and Archives, located in Leyburn Library.

These exhibits will remain on display until 1 April 2016.

Birthday Cake for George Washington


The Washington and Lee University Library does not often purchase “children’s books,” but occasionally we do — especially if they are about George Washington.   And, with his birthday coming up, what could be better than a book about his birthday cake?

The Washington Post, the New York Times, and National Public Radio are only three of the national media outlets which took note of a recently-published book entitled A Birthday Cake for George Washington.   However, as you can tell from clicking on these links, the reaction is not altogether welcoming.

These and many other media stories note that the publisher, Scholastic Press, withdrew this book from distribution after considerable criticism.   Despite this unusual action (by the respected publisher of the Harry Potter series in the U.S.), we were able to purchase a copy of the book, as were a few other libraries in the U.S.

The University Library supports the research and curriculum of Washington and Lee University, as well as our local and institutional history.  In fact, the “Rare Books” section of our formal collection development policy specifies a particular interest in acquiring “books about Robert E. Lee, George Washington and other prominent individuals associated with the history of Washington and Lee University, including fictional works.”   We plan to house our copy of this book in the Special Collections area of Leyburn Library.

Certainly, this book’s story — both its pages and the discussions surrounding its publication — should be of interest to researchers from a wide range of fields for many years to come.

Library Squirrel Displacement


Did you ever wonder what once occupied the space where Leyburn Library presently stands?

This question relates to the sad news of the recent passing of Frank Parsons, surely one of W&L’s most influential alumni and administrators of the past half-century.  Thereby hangs a tail — a squirrel tail.   For detailed accounts of the “Squirrel Memo” and other aspects of Frank’s career, see this W&L news article.   Below is the short version.

One of the many, many projects in which Frank was involved during his long service at W&L was the planning of the building now known as Leyburn Library.   What is less well known is that the population of squirrels (and other wildlife)  living behind Washington Hall represented at least a potential threat to Federal Government funding in support of the endeavor.

In 1974 Frank was charged with filling out an application to the U.S. Department of Health, Education, and Welfare for funding under the Higher Education Act to help pay for library construction.  Anyone who has had the joy of filling out government forms at any level — or even filling out forms in the college application process — has some idea of the challenges presented by mysterious questions couched in bureaucratic verbiage.

Frank Persons rose to the occasion and his witty response to HEW’s lengthy request for information became part of W&L legend as the “Squirrel Memo” and inspired an unusual response from the agency, addressed directly to the University President.   Not only that, but the Wall Street Journal got wind of the exchange and published an admiring opinion piece, which current members of the W&L campus community can read online, thanks to a University Library subscription.

Thank you, Frank.