Dictionaries Keeping Up with English


Any dictionary worth its salt (and where did that come from?) needs to keep growing.

The Washington and Lee University Library subscribes to the online sites of the two preeminent dictionaries of the English language and both of them recently revealed extensive additions to their empires of words.

Merriam-Webster Unabridged, the contemporary heir to Noah Webster’s American Dictionary of the English Language, is our most comprehensive guide to terminology in the modern English-language , at least, that of the American variety.   This database recently was enhanced by the addition of about 850 words and definitions, including glamping, dumpster fire, and mansplain.
This site also keeps tabs on the entries most often consulted in its collection; it should not be surprising that pi was heavily viewed around 3/14/18 and that Ides trended the next day.

The world’s preeminent etymological dictionary, the Oxford English Dictionary, is focused on documenting the history of English-language words, so their “new” words probably are not likely newly-born in 2017-18.   Still, the OED‘s research into where words came from and how they have changed in meaning and/or spelling continues, with their latest list of new/old words and definitions  including ransomware, footsie, and the intriguing diaper cake.

Certainly, both resources are worth their salt.

Kerner Commission Report


Fifty years ago this week one of the most famous “government documents” in modern times was published.

On 29 February 1968 the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders, forever known as the Kerner Commission (for its chairman, Governor Otto Kerner of Illinois), released its report on the causes of racial and economic unrest in the United States, reaching the chilling conclusion that “Our Nation is moving toward two societies, one black, one white — separate and unequal.”    The report was initially released as a free Federal Government publication and actually was reprinted commercially as a paperback and became a national best-seller, eventually out-selling the Warren Commission report on the assassination of President John Kennedy.

The W&L University Library has a printed copy of the Commission’s original release (along with a volume of supporting studies), as well as the commercially-published version.    It also is available without-charge and in its entirety in Google Books.

In 2018 many news sources, such as National Public Radio, are noting the 50th anniversary of the report and calling attention to the release of a new study which seeks to update the Kerner Commission’s work for our times.  The library has ordered a printed copy of this new book, Healing Our Divided Society.


[from Report of the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders]

Phillis Wheatley and George Washington


The University Library of Washington and Lee University is the proud owner of a first American edition of a volume entitled Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral, written by the first published African-American author, Phillis Wheatley.

Our Head of Special Collections and Archives, Tom Camden, recently contributed to the W&L website an essay, “Phillis Wheatley: ‘Favored by the Muses’,” which provides some perspective on this rare volume and its author.

One of Wheatley’s better-known poems which does not appear in this volume is “His Excellency General Washington,” which she sent directly to George Washington in 1775   General Washington was moved by the poem and wrote directly to the former slave to thank her for her creation.   W&L researchers can can use the University Library’s subscription to the Digital Edition of the Papers of George Washington to read Wheatley’s original letter to Washington, the enclosed copy of her poem, and Washington’s reply.    The poem was first published in the Virginia Gazette on 30 March 1776.


[Statue is part of the Boston Women’s Memorial.]

New Circulation Rules


You may have heard that the year 2018 is bringing to Washington and Lee a new library search interface for books, articles, and other materials.   (See “Search Primo” on the University Library homepage.)

But the new year also has brought major changes in circulation rules for books and other items.  For the first time in over 35 years,  there are new rules for how long you can keep something you check out.   Here are the details for various user categories:

  • W&L students will check out books for 90 days.   This replaces the old academic term circulation period.
  • W&L faculty and staff will check out books for one calendar year; a book checked out on 3 January 2018 will be due by 3 January 2019.   (I assume we can cope with leap years.)   This replaces a single date in each summer for all books checked out in the previous academic year.
  • Local residents and local students will check out books for 28 days.

Rules for special categories of materials:

  • Books in our McNaughton Collection (popular reading, aka sex-and/or-violence) will be checked out by the same rules that apply (above) to each category of users.   So, for example, W&L faculty could check out the latest John Grisham book for one year.
  • Circulating DVD’s will continue to be available for 3-day check-out.
  • There are no changes to circulation rules for materials on reserve at the Information Desk, including technology items, or for materials borrowed via interlibrary loan.

As always, our users can request that a book currently checked out be returned for their use (once that book has been out at least 2 weeks).  However, with the new Primo search tool, you must login to the system to be able to place such a request.   Note that in this example of a book currently checked out, there is a prompt to “Please sign in..”

That’s the gist of it.   If you have a question, please feel free to contact Head of Access Services Elizabeth Teaff or Access Services Supervisor Laura Hewett.

There’s Cicero, and Then There’s Cicero


Finding a copy of the works of Cicero, even in Latin, is not the challenge or achievement it once might have been.  Even venerable, “rare” copies are more accessible than ever.   For example, large sets may be available free-of-charge online, such as the HathiTrust’s digitized copies (from Harvard University) of a set published in the 1740’s.

But sometimes particular volumes’ history make them more “rare” than others.   Tom Camden, Head of Special Collections in Washington and Lee’s University Library, recently discovered the unique history of some volumes over 250 years old which makes them even more “Rare by Association.”

Farewell to the Library Catalog


You may have heard that the W&L University Library is getting rid of our library catalog.   Unlike so much of the fake news flying around these days, this tidbit is somewhat true.

Our online catalog (aka “Annie”) will celebrate its 26th anniversary during the upcoming Thanksgiving break — and then we will bury it shortly after Christmas.   In late December the contents of the catalog will be subsumed within a larger “discovery” database system and will continue to be available, but not as a separate listing.    We will be sharing more about that new system over the coming weeks.

To get some idea of the impact of the arrival of Annie in 1991, see the 9 January 1992 Ring Tum Phi article, below.

Our current transition is creating a few situations which may directly affect students and faculty right now:

  • Requests for books, videos, or other materials needed for the start of Winter Term must be submitted by November 15.
  • Links to the library catalog (such as this)  in course syllabi or other online locations will not work after December 27.
  • Some online resources, such as databases and electronic journals, are being removed from the catalog’s listings.   If you are looking for a link to one of these, please try other options available on our homepage:   Database List  |  Journals List  |  Subject & Course Guides


Martin Luther in the W&L Library


A new article in the Washington and Lee University website written by Tom Camden, the University Library’s Head of Special Collections and Archives, opens with these tantalizing words:

  • Four years ago, one of my first-year work-study students dropped by my office to ask if he could look at the Martin Luther pieces housed in the Special Collections vault. He had found them listed in the library catalog.
    Of course, I encouraged him to pull the items for viewing, with one caveat: He had to show them to me first, since I had not seen them and was not aware that Washington and Lee owned early Martin Luther items. What we discovered was nothing short of sensational.

Appearing the day before the 500th anniversary of Luther’s “95 Theses” earlier this week, Professor Camden’s Prelude to Reformation tells the fascinating story of W&L’s acquisition of four Luther works from the 16th century, an account in which the intellectual curiosity and generosity of recent graduate Joshua Duemler (’17)  are justly recognized.

More information about the University Library’s Special Collections is available @ http://library.wlu.edu/specialcollections/


Banned Books and Bill Cosby


This is Banned Books Week, during which the American Library Association shares its annual list of the Top Ten Most Challenged Books, which the ALA admits is only a “snapshot of book challenges,” over 80% of which are never reported.

There is weirdness in every year’s list and 2016 was no exception.  As pointed out in the New York Times, one book was challenged this year not because of its content, but because of the behavior of its creator.  Bill Cosby’s Little Bill series got tarred by its association with its own author and this appears to be the first time any book was challenged solely because of who wrote it.


Histories of Athlete Protests


Nearly every day brings us news of events and personalities that surely must be unprecedented in American culture, but actually very little is completely new.    Certainly, the spectacle of athletes or others using public events to call attention to social or political issues can be startling, but such actions have a rich history in modern America.

Thanks to a University Library subscription, current Washington and Lee University students, faculty, and staff have online access to America: History and Life,  a database which focuses on the literature in history-related academic journals on North American history.   A search in that database on protests or demonstrations by athletes yields this list of over 50 journal articles and other sources detailing fascinating events dating back over 100 years.

Please note that next summer will mark the 50th anniversary of what is probably the most famous such protest, the “black power” salute of John Carlos and Tommie Smith at the 1968 Olympics.


[from the Washington Post ]

New Chicago Manual of Style


Surely, a college campus is one of the very few places in the world in which a new manual on writing style and usage (or is it use?) is a cause for rejoicing — or maybe outrage.

But here we are.

The University of Chicago Press just released the new 17th edition of its Chicago Manual of Style, one of the most venerable and respected guides to the use of the English language.  Or, as the publisher phrases it, ” It is the indispensable reference for writers, editors, proofreaders, indexers, copywriters, designers, and publishers, informing the editorial canon with sound, definitive advice.”   But most students (and former students)  probably know it as one of those infamous guides, so beloved by their professors, to the formatting of research paper bibliographies, footnotes, and such.

The University Library now has a printed copy (on Reserve at the Information Desk) and W&L students, faculty, and staff also have online access through the library’s subscription to the official Chicago Manual of Style website, which contains the complete text of the new edition, plus lots of other authoritative guidance.   Links to the guide are available in the library catalog and various online course research guides.

Much of the discussion in the new edition is fascinating for any fan of the English language.   As Exhibit A, we offer the entry on the “Singular ‘They‘,” which includes a brief examination of the use of the word themself.   Enjoy.