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The Law Library Celebrates Fifty Years of BLSA

Fifty years ago, on Friday, October 16, 1970, UVA Law’s Black students formed the Black American Law Students Association (BALSA, now BLSA), a chapter of the National Black Law Students Association. BLSA addressed the growing need for a formal body to voice racial and equity concerns, both at UVA Law and within the Charlottesville community, and establish lasting solutions. In 1970, BLSA members advocated for greater recruitment efforts to increase the number of Black students at the Law School and for greater transparency in the faculty hiring process. At the time, there was not a single Black person on the Law faculty. 

Front page of the Virginia Law Weekly, 23 October 1970. The headline on the left reads "Blacks Inaugurate BALSA Chapter to Provide Forum."
Image Courtesy Virginia Law Weekly.

UVA Law hired its first Black professor, Larry Gibson, in 1972 due in large part to BLSA’s persistent advocacy and strong leadership. To learn more about BLSA’s resilient efforts to increase diversity at UVA Law during its first decade, check out this Spring 2018 article from the UVA Lawyer.

Larry Gibson, Law Professor at UVA from 1972 to 1974.

Through the years, BLSA has pushed for change beyond faculty hiring and student recruitment. BLSA has provided legal services for underserved members of the Charlottesville community, staged successful protests, boycotts, and teach-ins, addressed national issues, and collaborated with the Black Student Alliance, UVA’s undergraduate Black student coalition. As an advocate for racial justice at the Law School, BLSA has also served as a social and philanthropic organization that proudly represents the Law School while always holding it accountable. 

Today, the UVA Law Library Special Collections team is proud to announce our collaboration with BLSA to produce an online exhibit on the organization’s history, set to be released in February 2021 in conjunction with Black History Month. 

We encourage readers to explore BLSA’s social media to learn more about the organization’s history and discover their commemorative efforts and activities. Follow BLSA on Twitter @UVABLSA, find them on Facebook, and check out their website here. 

For further reading:

How BALSA Began, UVA Law News, 9 October 2020 

Photos from 50 Years of BLSA, UVA Law News, 13 October 2020  

UVA BLSA Wins Mid-Atlantic Chapter of the Year, 20 February 2020 

Black Law Students Mattered, UVA Lawyer, Spring 2018

UVA Law Special Collections Archives

Select articles from the Virginia Law Weekly [Requires Netbadge login]:

Letter from BLSA to the Editors denouncing implicit racism in editorial published in previous issue, 16 October 1970

Blacks Inaugurate BALSA Chapter to Provide Forum, 23 October 1970

Black Students Request Inquiry by Government, 24 March 1972

BALSA Aids Recruitment of Minorities to Law School, 3 November 1972

BALSA Stages Teach-In; Urges Boycott of Classes, 28 October 1983

Almost 200 Participate in Boycott, 18 November 1983

Robinson Proves You Can Go Home Again, 21 September 1984

BLSA urges divestiture of University funds, 15 February 1985

Focus on Diversity: Is U.Va. Doing Enough? A Call for Diversification, 13 April 1990

Mere Sacrifices: BLSA’s Contribution to the Community, 8 November 1996

BLSA Wins National Chapter of the Year Award, 4 April 2003

Header image: Black American Law Students Association (BALSA, now BLSA) officers, 1974.

Back row, left to right: Ronald R. Wesley ’75, Kester I. Crosse ’75, and Dennis L. Montgomery ’75. 

Front row, left to right: Delores R. Boyd ’75, Jan Freeman ’75, and Sheila Jackson Lee ’75.

Written by

Addie Patrick

Addie Patrick

Addie Patrick is the Library Coordinator with the UVA Law Library. She assists with Special Collections' many projects and with Circulation.

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Special Bulletin: Accessing Law Library Books in a Hybrid Environment

If you’re a law student taking classes on grounds or remotely this semester, you have several options for accessing the Law Library’s print collection:

Visit the stacks. The Law Library stacks are currently open to law students and faculty. If your book is located at the Law Library and marked ‘On Shelf Now’ in Virgo, then you can grab it from our stacks! (Note: This is true even if Virgo displays a message indicating that UVA Libraries stacks are closed.) Make a note of the call number and check where that will be on the map. If you’d like to scan part of the book, you can use one of the Law Library’s two public scanners. Flash drives for saving your scans are available at the circulation desk.

Ask us to pull the book for you. If you prefer to spend less time in the Law Library—even if you’re taking classes on grounds this semester—you can ask us to retrieve the book and hold it at circulation for you. Please use the ‘Request item’ button in Virgo and choose ‘Law’ as your Preferred Pickup Location. You’ll receive an email when the book is available for pickup. (Note: You’ll need to be logged in to Virgo to make a request.)

Ask us to make a scan for you. Whether you’re on grounds or working remotely, we’ll be happy to scan chapters, articles, or pages from any Law Library book. To request a scan, use the “Request a Scan” button in the Virgo catalog. You can use the same procedure to request scans from other UVA libraries. (Note: If you don’t see a “Request a Scan” button, that means your book is available to read on HathiTrust.)

Ask us to send you the book. If you’re working remotely, we’ll gladly mail you any books that you need (except for reference and reserve books). For full books from any UVA Library (including Law), please use this form and UVA Libraries staff will contact you about mailing arrangements or other options for accessing the book.

Questions? Send us an email at, and we’ll be happy to assist you.

Written by

Kate Boudouris

Kate Boudouris

Kate is the Research, Instruction & Outreach Librarian at Arthur J. Morris Law Library.

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The UVA Law Library Celebrates Two Centennial Anniversaries

This year marks the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment and the 100th anniversary of women’s matriculation at the law school.

To commemorate these two watershed moments in our history, the law library is proud to present the installation of two exhibits which are on display on the 1st and 2nd floors of the library.

100 Years of Coeducation provides a timeline of female history, struggle, activism, and triumph at UVA Law. The exhibit is composed of eight banners, two display cases with artifacts from the law library’s special collections department, and a rolling slideshow of 100 UVA alumnae in the lobby.

100 Years of Coeducation will be on display through the end of September.

Three exhibit banners displayed in a hallway
Three of six banners in the ABA’s traveling exhibit “100 Years After the 19th Amendment.”

The American Bar Association’s traveling exhibit, 100 Years After the 19th Amendment: Their Legacy, and Our Future, will be on display on the 2nd floor of the library from September 1st through 14th.

In conjunction with these exhibits, we asked our female colleagues at the law library to share their voting stories with us. Here are some of their memories:

“Personally, I have to think about (remember….) my first voting experience. More strikingly I remember bringing my two daughters to vote with me in 2016. I think they were most impressed with the sticker afterwards, but I like to think the greater importance of the experience sank in just a little as well.”

Randi Flaherty
Special Collections Librarian

“I grew up in a small town and when I went to vote in my first election, I was known by all the folks working the election. I was a bit intimidated by the ballot machine and worried that I would have to ask for help (why that worried me, I do not know). That evening, per family tradition, we went up to the courthouse to watch them write the vote tallies up on a big board as the counts came in from each precinct.” 

Leslie Ashbrook
Research Librarian

“Growing up, I always loved accompanying my parents to the polls. I took my duty as a kid voter very seriously, less due to my political leanings and more because of the sticker you get afterwards. I even talked to my friends about voting, going so far as to ask for whom they voted (a bold and perhaps inappropriate move). My first legitimate voting experience was in 2008 when Barack Obama won the first time. I don’t recall going to the polls, but I do remember staying up late and watching President Obama’s acceptance speech. As a then junior history major in college, I remember being honored to witness such a significant moment for our nation.”

Meggan Cashwell
Postdoctoral Research Associate

“It’s been a while since my first time voting, so I don’t remember very much! Here’s what I do remember: The first election after my eighteenth birthday was a presidential primary. I’d registered as an independent, but I was excited about being able to vote, so I went in and cast a ballot on some local issues. The poll workers, two older women, were very encouraging and helped make it a positive experience.”

Kate Boudouris
Research, Instruction, and Outreach Librarian

“What I remember about my first voting experience: Sophomore year in college I sat with my absentee ballot for the presidential election and remembered a high school conversation in which a [male] classmate questioned — “is that what you think or is that just what you hear your parents say?” At my dorm room desk I filled in a bubble, wondering if I would have chosen differently in high school and why.”  

Kristin Glover
Research Librarian

“In 2008, I was in 5th grade. My parents used to get the Washington Post, and in the “Kid’s Post” section there was a blank map of the electoral college that readers were encouraged to color in with red or blue as the results came in that evening. I tried to stay up to complete the map, but in the end, I had to go to bed before I could finish it. In 2012, when I was in middle school, election day was a holiday. My orchestra class took the opportunity to fundraise in the school lobby. I wonder now if voters really appreciated amateur string players attempting Pachelbel’s Canon at 6am as they waited in line. I was finally eligible to vote in the 2016 primaries. I remember being nervous for when the poll worker asked for my address, as if I would suddenly forget it. I was incredibly excited to vote after many years of participating in the civic revelry surrounding the occasion.”

Addie Patrick
Special Collections Assistant

Come visit us to learn more about UVA Law’s history of coeducation and about women’s struggle for the vote (and to pick up a free bookmark!).

Written by

Addie Patrick

Addie Patrick

Addie Patrick is the Library Coordinator with the UVA Law Library. She assists with Special Collections' many projects and with Circulation.

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Law Librarians: Here to Help

With the addition of plexiglass and social distancing reminders, the Law Library may look a little different this semester—but one thing that hasn’t changed is our commitment to providing UVA Law students with excellent research assistance and instruction. If you find yourself stuck on a research question, or just want to talk through a new project, remember that law librarians are standing by to help. Here are some of the best ways to get in touch with us:

  • As always, email us at
  • Schedule a (virtual) research consultation for help developing a research strategy, working through a challenge, or using Law Library resources.
  • For questions about checking out books or other general library issues, use the chat feature on our homepage to contact the circulation desk.

If you’re having trouble deciding where to start, check out our new Start Your Research guide, which provides information about finding databases, obtaining books, and getting additional help.

No question is too big or too small, so please don’t hesitate to ask. We can’t wait to hear from you!

Written by

Kate Boudouris

Kate Boudouris

Kate is the Research, Instruction & Outreach Librarian at Arthur J. Morris Law Library.

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The Making of Marshaling May Days

On June 15, 2020, we launched the Marshaling May Days online exhibit and website, the culmination of over a year of research on the law students who served as legal observers (“marshals”) in May 1970 at UVA. This project represents the official rebirth of the law school’s oral history program, originally spearheaded by Frances Farmer (law librarian from 1942 to 1976 and first female professor at UVA Law). Since then, the law library’s oral history collection has remained dormant, until now. This is the story of how an idea became a year-long research quest, full of inspiration and occasionally disappointment (spoiler: COVID-19). From Boynton Beach, Florida to Aspen, Colorado, I describe here the making of Marshaling May Days. It is my hope that those interested in starting their own oral history projects will find wisdom in our process; both in our successes and in our challenges.

Chapter 1: The Beginning

February 2019—May 2019

Our story begins in early 2019, when Ted Hogshire (Law, Class of 1970) reached out to Special Collections Librarian Randi Flaherty about a pseudo-organization he was involved with fifty years ago at UVA Law: “legal marshals.” In the spring of 1970, protests erupted around the country in response to the Nixon administration’s decision to expand the Vietnam War into Cambodia and as a reaction to the National Guard shootings at Kent State University. The legal marshals, Hogshire explained, were a group of law students, mostly third years, that banded together to ensure the First Amendment rights of student protesters at UVA. He believed the legal marshals played a role in ensuring that UVA demonstrations did not turn physically violent, and as such their story should be told. Further, 2020 would mark the fiftieth anniversary of the Class of 1970.

Randi conducted the first oral history of the May Days Oral History Project that February with Ted Hogshire, and that was that for a couple of months.

At this time, I was a third-year student (in the College) studying abroad in Lyon, France. It was not until I applied for a slew of positions through the Institute for Public History (IPH), including one at the law library, that I became mildly aware of Law Special Collections, though I didn’t get that position. However, in April, Randi emailed me. She was impressed with my oral history experience (I interned with Monticello’s Getting Word and contributed to UVA’s Oral History Initiative, Reflections, the previous summer) and asked if I was interested in breathing new life into UVA Law’s oral history program, starting with Hogshire’s request to interview former legal marshals. Flattered and thrilled, I joined the team.

Chapter 2: The Kneedler Investigation

May 2019—November 2019

While I finished my study abroad experience, Randi sent me a handful of preliminary research materials to familiarize myself with the era. However, my research really began when I returned home. During our initial meeting, Randi and I established two research questions: who were the legal marshals, and what did they do?

To get started, Randi pointed me to the “Papers of the Ad-Hoc Committee on Student Affairs Pertaining to the Student Strike of 1970 [manuscript] 1970” (the “Kneedler Investigation”). Long story short, then-Assistant Dean of the Law School H. Lane Kneedler was charged with conducting an investigation on the facts and key players of the May 1970 strike. During the summer months of 1970, he completed interviews with undergraduate and law students and compiled heaps of legal precedent. At the request of President Edgar Shannon, a final report was never produced.

I requested a digital scan of the investigation, which our friends at Small Special Collections gladly fulfilled. That summer, I read through the Kneedler Investigation, the Cavalier Daily, the Charlottesville Daily Progress, an invaluable pictorial account of the May strike (May Days: Crisis in Confrontation), and one student’s thesis from 1977. I compiled every name I came across into an Excel spreadsheet, which I then color-coded based on if the individual was arrested, a law student, or a legal marshal (or, as I found, all three!).

We decided early on that we wanted to focus on third-year legal marshals so that we could present our research in the form of a physical exhibit at their 50th reunion in May 2020. We separated out the 3L legal marshals from the rest, created a new tab in the Excel sheet, and produced a running list of potential oral history interviewees.

Chapter 3: Is this thing on?

November 2019—March 2020

This stage of the process was critical for two reasons: 1). Meggan Cashwell joined our team, gifting us with her oral history wisdom and editing skills, and 2). It was time to fulfill Ted Hogshire’s wish and get out there and interview his colleagues.

To make this happen, we sent emails, made phone calls, and even sent physical letters to everyone on our legal marshal list describing the project and our goals. While we waited for responses, Meggan, Randi, and I worked to develop a list of interview questions that we could send to our interviewees in preparation for a formal interview. We also reached out to other oral history, public history, and storytelling organizations for advice on best practices and methodologies, including JMU’s oral history team, Monticello’s Getting Word, UVA’s Reflections, The Museum of Durham History, and WTJU 91.1. Over the next few weeks, responses started to trickle in. We heard back from Bob Olson, who was willing to do an interview but was currently in Aspen, Colorado for the winter. We heard from Dan Sullivan, who was in Boynton Beach, Florida. And we heard back from a handful of others who were still practicing law in the DC area. Despite the distance, we were determined to conduct as many in-person interviews as our timeline and budget would allow.

February 2020 was full of travel for the oral history team. Randi, Meggan, and Micheal Klepper (our videographer) journeyed from the snowy peaks of Aspen to the sandy shores of Boynton Beach. I stayed behind to finish up my schoolwork, but had the chance to travel to Winchester, Virginia to meet former legal marshal Gerald MacFarlane. In each case, our interviewees graciously welcomed us into their homes and offices and spoke with us for about an hour, reminiscing on “those days in May.” They shared their ruminations and reflections with us, and in return we helped to shake the dust off some of their memories through the presentation of our research.

As we neared the end of February, we only had a few interviews left to conduct. We were set to proceed with them after my spring break in early March, and then we would begin pulling together a physical exhibit to present to the Class of 1970 during their reunion in May.

Everything was going swimmingly until, of course, COVID-19 gobbled up our plans and the end of my fourth year like a greedy shark.

Chapter 4: You’re muted. Your microphone is muted!

March 2020—May 2020

I found out that I would not be going back to school near the end of spring break.

I returned to my apartment in Charlottesville and transitioned to classes online. The May Days Oral History Project continued. We met virtually via Microsoft Teams. We conducted three interviews on Zoom with four individuals (Ed Finch, Frank McDermott, H. Lane Kneedler, and Jim Carpenter). We continued to upload our interviews to, a transcription service, and some of our staff set about correcting the transcripts for our collections.

Then, near the end of March, it became clear that everything was going to be canceled for the rest of the semester, including the Class of 1970 reunion.

We quickly determined that we still needed to present our research and decided on making an online exhibit in the form of a website. Inspired by his work on the SCOS Archive and Charlottesville Statues, we enlisted Loren Moulds to create a stellar site.

All that was left to do was figure out how we wanted the site to look, write the content, edit the content, finish the transcripts, find and create all media, cite all our sources, and put it together by the end of May. Piece of cake.

Chapter 5: Let’s build a website!

May 2020—June 2020

We knew we wanted a timeline element and a map. We envisioned a site which allowed users to jump around the timeline, as opposed to scrolling through in a linear way. As users clicked around to different points on the timeline or map, text and images would pop up to match the event. We split the work: Meggan would write the exhibit content, I would find pictures and plug it into StoryMap, and Loren would incorporate the exhibit into a larger website.

The preliminary sketches looked like this:

Once the content was complete, I created Prototype 1 of the exhibit:

Technically, it had everything we wanted (map, pictures, timeline), but it did not feel like a modern museum exhibit. We found ourselves frustrated with what this version of StoryMap couldn’t do. We could do better.

I did a little more research, and created Prototype 2:

This version was cleaner. It felt more like a website from this century. However, we were unable to incorporate audio clips into the text panel without linking to an outside video player. It was time for the third and final Prototype, which you can see in its full glory at the Marshaling May Days website.

Now that we settled on our format for the exhibit, it was time to edit the content. We had multiple edit sessions for each page of the site to ensure that every link worked, every photo was clear and cited properly, and that the text made sense. Multiple days spent editing content whilst in quarantine turned my notebook into a doodle-y mess…

…but made my roommate’s cat very content.

During the editing period, we enlisted a few library staffers and are incredibly thankful that they momentarily stepped away from their own projects to provide a fresh set of eyes to ours.

As we prepared to launch our site amid ongoing Black Lives Matter demonstrations, we decided to delay the site’s release in order to take a step back and reflect on the work we had completed. We thought about the privilege the legal marshals held never to fear for their lives or safety during the demonstrations they attended or during their brief interactions with police. We changed the ending of our exhibit to speak to the role that UVA student activists have played in demanding greater systemic change and demographic representation both in the College and in the law school. 

Conclusion: The actual, satisfying, gratifying end (for now)

June 2020

Despite the May Days madness, the law library made time to celebrate their graduating interns: Maeve Harris (bottom left), Addie Patrick (bottom center), Sarah Houston (not pictured), and Sara Garcia-Pretelt (not pictured).

The website is now live, and we are, again, so grateful for all the individuals who helped to make it happen, including our interviewees, our text editors, and our friends and family that did not shy away from providing their own critiques of the site.

In the immediate present, we will host a “Zoom Reunion” for our interviewees on June 23rd and invite them to reminisce together. We anticipate the moment we can see them in person during the combined Class of 1970/1971 reunion in May 2021.

In the future, we will be expanding our oral history collection to include a diverse set of voices. We will incorporate relevant interviews into the May Days website. We also plan to include a photo gallery so users can thoroughly explore the law library’s collection of May Days photographs.

We shift now to the centennial anniversary of women at UVA Law, and are excited to prepare programming to mark the occasion.

 To round out the legal marshal story, I will share one final reflection:

National Lawyers’ Guild Legal Observers. Wikimedia Commons.

I’ve attended two of the Black Lives Matter demonstrations in Charlottesville so far and noticed a handful of students standing around the edges, wearing neon green hats. Upon further inspection, those hats read “National Lawyers’ Guild Legal Observer.” I learned that UVA Law has their own chapter of the NLG. Seeing those individuals patrol the perimeter of the demonstration, recording their observations into their phones and small notebooks, I felt as if I had stepped into my research.

Time ticks forward, generations age and begin anew, but the power of protest lives on.

A legal marshal monitors a crowd of UVA students at a rally on May 6, 1970. David M. Skinner, Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library, University of Virginia.

Written by

Addie Patrick

Addie Patrick

Addie Patrick is the Library Coordinator with the UVA Law Library. She assists with Special Collections' many projects and with Circulation.

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A Diary of a Lonely Librarian, Part 8

Chronicles of sadness and strangeness in the time of COVID-19

Tuesday, June 2: Black Lives Matter. All black lives, all the time. After the murders of George Floyd, Tony McDade, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery, within the context of hundreds of years of racism, police brutality and violence against black people, my usual diary entries felt inappropriate. As a white person, what are some things I could do to work against our violent system of white supremacy?

I can listen to and follow black leadership, particularly black women and femmes. Here are just a few of the black women local to Charlottesville that I have been able to learn from when I pay attention and listen: Lisa Woolfork, who organizes BlackWomenStitch on Instagram; Zyahna Bryant, who grew up in Charlottesville, is now a UVA student and has been a leader in the local movement for racial justice for years, is on twitter; Nikuyah Walker, the current mayor of Charlottesville, who has also been working for racial justice in Charlottesville for many years, and is on Facebook; Jalane Schmidt, who has been working towards changing the racist narrative in Charlottesville, including getting the confederate monuments removed, is on Twitter. There are many more, as well.

I can speak out against and resist white supremacy: object, call it out, say no, and participate in  protests like the ones that have been so successful in so many cities across the country in recent days.

I can donate to and support local black-led advocacy organizations. There are many in Charlottesville. Lending Hands has helped countless people, including many black women, get re-established in the community after being caught up in the criminal justice system and is a great resource for racial justice work locally. Public Housing Association of Residents (PHAR) is a leader in the movement for housing justice in Charlottesville. The People’s Coalition does great work on policing and criminal justice in Charlottesville. Black Lives Matter-Charlottesville was formed in 2017 to work against white supremacy and support black people locally. The Jefferson School African American Heritage Center has hosted many important events on racial justice in recent years and is a center of African American history in Charlottesville. Again, these are just a few among many.

Written by

Ben Doherty

Ben Doherty

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A Diary of a Lonely Librarian, Part 7

Chronicles of sadness and strangeness in the time of COVID-19

Tuesday, May 19: The steps in the picture above are where I smacked our former law library director in the nose. It was an accident. Taylor (the director at the time), my colleagues Micheal and Cathy, and I were on the law school front entrance steps preparing for our American Association of Law Libraries annual meeting presentation on Leadership Styles for Conflict Resolution. We were, of course, dressed as the Knights of the Round Table, as whenever Micheal, Cathy, Taylor and I did a presentation at the big annual professional conference, we always did it in costume. Cathy was Lancelot the Brave, Taylor was Galahad the Pure, Micheal was Robin the Not-So-Brave-As-Lancelot, and I was King Arthur (not sure why). Because we were cutting edge, we decided to do a videotaped opening for our live presentation. The plan was to gallop up to the steps of the law school using coconuts to mimic the sounds of our horses’ hooves—Monty Python style—and then gallop into the law school and down the main hallway to the library entrance. It would create a seamless transition to our entrance to the conference hall in Portland, Oregon later that year where we would again gallop in, clomping our coconuts, to begin our presentation. On the steps of the law school, we stood as a group to exclaim, while throwing out our arms, that we were “On a Quest for the Holy Grail of Conflict Resolution!” I apparently threw my arms out with too much gusto and caught Taylor right on the nose. I felt terrible when I saw the video afterwards, which we did not use for the presentation, as it showed Taylor doubling over in pain. Taylor has always been a pretty tough person, though. She would often tell of her childhood in Bumpass, Virginia, where it sounded like they did not have a lot other than a competitive spirit and love. She laughed off the whole nose thing, and I kept my job at the law library, for which I am grateful.

Right now, I get down some days. Working from home mostly, or going into a completely empty library once a week, I realize how much I treasure the human contact that is part of being a librarian. Without being able to see and talk with people in person—students, colleagues, patrons—it feels sometimes like all of the work is there, but none of the joy. There are days where I feel like we are stuck in something endless and unchanging. Not much good news in the world. When Taylor was the director, before she retired, we would sometimes have rough days as well. Who knows what they were: the library skylights leaking, construction projects getting overly messy, issues with librarians’ faculty status—something. I would sometimes be sitting out at the reference desk at the end of those days and Taylor would walk by on her way to head home. She would say to me, “Ben,”—in her rural Virginia accent, she pronounced my three-letter name as if it had nine letters and two syllables—“Ben, I am going home and I am going to have a cocktail. And tomorrow? Tomorrow is going to be a brand new day.” And she would smile and walk out, usually in something quite stylish. And the thing about Taylor was, that at that moment, even after however rough the day had been, I believed her.

Thursday, May 21: It’s been cloudy and cold all week here. I think somebody said maybe it’s the outskirts of Tropical Storm Arthur. I took these two pictures back on Tuesday, my day to be in the library. We’re lucky in our library that we have a lot of windows. Most of the time, with the indoor lights blazing all day and the library full and busy, you don’t always notice how much of an effect the outdoor light has on the library atmosphere. On a day like Tuesday, with no-one around, the indoor lights off, and not much sun outside, it feels particularly dark and lonely.

Written by

Ben Doherty

Ben Doherty

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A Diary of a Lonely Librarian, Part 6

Chronicles of sadness and strangeness in the time of COVID-19

Monday, May 11: I feel like Zoom meetings are the LaCroix Sparkling Water of human contact. I acknowledge that many of the people I love care a lot for LaCroix. And, when I’m at a picnic on a hot day, I’ll give it a chance and reach into the cooler and dig through the ice for a Pamplemousse LaCroix (the flavor name that makes me feel more traveled). But as soon as I take a sip, I know what I really want is an Orange Crush. Some actual flavor. It’s going to be a while before we can freely see one another safely in person again, and online get-togethers are just not a flavorful replacement. I miss actually being in the same space, being able to read subtle facial expressions or body language, and being able to flow with a group conversation without having to pause between statements to make sure I’m not talking over someone else on the video. NONETHELESS, I attended the most delightful Zoom meeting today. My co-worker, Kate, asked me to participate in a Zoom call with some colleagues from Stanford Law Library as they discussed how law libraries can support student wellness right now. It was the best thing I’ve done all week. We had a really nice conversation and I got to spend an hour with some really pleasant and creative people who I might not have otherwise met, talking about issues we all care about as librarians. Kate and I are on the East Coast. They are on the West Coast. We might have met at a conference, but also likely not. Now I hope to see them in person one day when that’s again possible. I often finish Zoom meetings these days feeling tired and frustrated. This one was actually affirming. It reminded me of a blog that a good friend recommended to me for right now called Alive, Awake & Making It Through. Recently, the author wrote of “How to miss the world”: “Let yourself dream. . . . Once you feel into what you miss and why that matters to you, let yourself envision the ways in which aspects might arrive to you in new and unexpected form. We don’t know what’s coming, but we know it won’t be only loss. Things will arrive. What might they be?” I miss people. I miss human contact. I miss the spontaneity of in-person conversations. I miss hugs. Zoom meetings are a pale comparison. But if they can remind me of what I love about human contact and get me through to when we can all be with one another again, then I’ll take them.

Tuesday, May 12: The law school lawn is empty where, right now, there would normally be a flurry of activity. Every year, during this week between the end of final exams and graduation, a facilities team would be setting up the lawn for graduation. In just a couple days, they usually set out hundreds and hundreds of chairs, all carefully aligned, covering the main lawn and the two grassy areas beside it. They build a stage with exit and entrance ramps. Tents. It’s pretty amazing work. And then they take it all down even more quickly immediately after graduation. Not this year. This year the lawn is empty. It looks very pretty, but it feels lonely as I sit out here, taking a break on my one day at the library this week. I feel bad for the students and their families. Celebrating accomplishments is important and graduating from law school is a big one. Graduation will, with hope, take place in person in the Fall instead, and this weekend there will be online ceremonies. Personally, I miss seeing the hundreds of chairs all ready to go—it’s always a nice marker of time.

Wednesday, May 13: I checked in with my library gymnastics coach today. We can only check in through online chat, so we have to summarize how to do a cartwheel or a round off just using written words, which is definitely hard. She said I was doing a good job working hard at practice! “Working hard at practice” seemed like a good method of encouragement, without passing any judgment on the measurable results, or lack thereof, of the practice. I can say that I no longer get spots in my eyes when I do cartwheels, so that’s measurable improvement. We discussed how I seem to find round offs a little easier than cartwheels. I think that’s because a good-looking cartwheel correlates with one’s ability to do a split, and on the spectrum of split ability, I definitely fall on the “cannot do a split” side of things. I have been practicing my back bridges, which I last did in high school 30 years ago, and which I’m hoping will help when I get to the back walkover point. Who knew that being a librarian was so hard!

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Ben Doherty

Ben Doherty

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A Diary of a Lonely Librarian, Part 5

Chronicles of sadness and strangeness in the time of COVID-19

Monday, May 4: The moon is pretty tonight, bright and steady behind the quickly moving clouds. My friend William lives in Daegu, South Korea, where they have been implementing public health containment measures for much longer than we have. He is a teacher. With the pandemic, and travel restrictions, and just the normal uncertainties of life, I don’t know when I will ever see William again. I also don’t know if he looks up at the moon. But tonight it makes me feel better to know that, if he does, it is the same moon.

Tuesday, May 5: There were once goldfish in this pond in the law school courtyard. Big ones. Small ones. Gold, white, orange. All kinds. They did not disappear because of the current crisis. I think a few years ago it just became too difficult to keep relocating them during the winter months. In most years, there would be law students sitting out in the courtyard right now, relaxing under the trees in between studying for final exams. Or the law school might be setting up for one of their big alumni reunion events, where they put a tent up with all kinds of festive decorations over the pond and a dance floor right next to it. It always seems like a pretty fun occasion. The courtyard is completely empty right now—quiet except for the burbling fountain. It was just as empty ten years ago when I snuck into this courtyard on an early Sunday summer morning so that I could secretly add two more goldfish to the pond. My younger son had won them when he went to the Dogwood Festival carnival with a friend. When we are not in crisis, the Dogwood Festival takes place in April while our dogwoods are in bloom and the carnival runs for the full duration of the festival in one of our city parks. It’s a classic traveling carnival with games, fried food, and rides that seem to have a little too much duct tape and for which you know they lost the assembly instructions decades ago. The Ferris wheel is only about 50 feet high, but it’s about the most terrifying ride I have ever been on, because you’re just. . . not . . . sure. My son was very excited about the two goldfish he won. Then, after a couple months, he wasn’t so excited to take care of them anymore and asked if he could move them out of his room. I didn’t want to take on the difficult task of caring for goldfish, and I thought, “You know what, I bet they would be happiest amongst friends in the goldfish pond at the law school!” So, being a rule follower, I asked the building manager if there was any reason that I could not add a couple more goldfish to the pond. He laughed and said he wasn’t aware of anything stopping me. Still, I felt it best that I do it by sneaking in when no one else was around. I drove the goldfish over in their bowl (harder than you might think), snuck through the outer doors, ran over to the pond splashing half the water from the bowl onto my shirt, and dumped them in. They paused for a second in their new environment, but then swam off under some of the vegetation! You’re welcome! And no one caught me! When I went back to work that Monday, I visited the pond to see how they were doing, but it’s surprising how hard it is to tell one goldfish from another.

Tuesday, May 5, that same day: There is some pretty fun art in the law school and since the building is completely empty and quiet, I decided to walk around to take some pictures. My favorite is this painting called Pink Cow and Calf at Night by the local artist John Borden Evans. The cows are looking right at you. I like it because it is in the main hallway, right on my route from where I park my car to the library, so I pass it every morning on the way into work. Law school can be stressful and intense. There are many wonderful events and people in the school. The students are talented, creative and kind. Law school can be a challenging experience though. For the students, it is a lot of work and there can be a lot of pressure to perform, and to take all the right steps for their careers. When I walk into the main hallway on normal mornings, students are usually hurrying into the classrooms so as not to be late. I’m usually thinking about what I need to do that day, which can sometimes get busy pretty quickly. When I walk by this painting, it’s a nice reminder that, “Yeah. . . but also. . . pink cows.”

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Ben Doherty

Ben Doherty

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A Diary of a Lonely Librarian, Part 4

Chronicles of sadness and strangeness in the time of COVID-19

The myLab space where grilled cheese night is normally held.

Tuesday, April 28: Tonight would have been grilled cheese night.I think I’ll miss you most of all.” We have been doing grilled cheese night in the law library for about ten years. During each Fall and Spring exam period, we pick a night shortly after the first 1L exam and make hot grilled cheese sandwiches for any law student in the library. We usually serve about 130 or 140 sandwiches in an hour to the students in our myLab space. By 6:00, when we start, we have a line of students out the door of myLab, reaching all the way to the reference desk. This year, myLab is dark and the line is gone. I’m really sad about it. I miss the grilled cheese team: Micheal, who started it all with me and works the griddle right next to me; Tim, who manages the line and has never failed to catch a grilled cheese that we flipped to him; and Rebecca, who helps with the line, stands in at a griddle and does the social media stuff the rest of us don’t understand. I miss the students, who are always so polite and appreciative, even as they have to wait 20 minutes for a “grilled cheese WITH tomato” or a “grilled cheese withOUT tomato.” I miss Carol Sue, who always works late and is there every year to help us clean up at the end and sample a sandwich. I miss doing the shopping in the morning with Micheal at our local grocery store, where we always have to figure out how much cheese, bread, chips and tomatoes to get from scratch because we never write it down. I miss spending part of the afternoon with him as he prepares the cheese slices and I slice the tomatoes in our breakroom while we listen to music on his phone. I miss our outfits: aprons and matching t-shirts that my wife, Lisa, made years ago. I miss “Grilly,” our giant, grilled cheese sign that we always hang up on the window to announce the event.

Micheal and I came up with the idea a decade ago. Like most of our ideas, it was spontaneous and we committed to it 100% without thinking it through. Our original thought was to make comfort food for the students during exams, and we first decided that pancakes, bacon and sausage would be the best—breakfast for dinner. We had the foresight to realize that cooking twenty pounds of bacon and sausage would produce a lot of grease, so we decided to pre-cook them at my house and then just reheat them on the griddle that night while making the pancakes for the students. We did not anticipate just how much grease it would produce, though. In my small kitchen, we had pans of sausage and bacon going in the oven at the same time that we had several pans cooking on the stove top. In just a few minutes we were overwhelmed by hot grease. We could not find enough containers for it. Soda cans, jars, milk cartons—we filled everything we had. My house still smells like bacon grease. We also did not realize how much grease the bacon would produce even when just being reheated that night in the law library. We had one griddle going for fresh pancakes and another for reheating the sausage and bacon. We soon had a steady drizzle of boiling bacon grease pouring from the side of that one griddle and had to start running back and forth to the break room to cut up metal soda cans to catch it. As soon as we set down a quarter soda can, it would fill up and we would have to replace it. Micheal and I both ended up with cuts and burns on our hands. But it was fun and the students loved it. After that, we switched to grilled cheese and never had the same technical problems, other than the two separate occasions that we blew an electrical fuse in the library. We hope to be able to do it all again soon. I love it.

Wednesday, April 29: My library gymnastics coach says that a good developmental progression would be cartwheel, roundoff, back walkover, and then roundoff back handspring. I’m not sure. I’ve been practicing my cartwheel on the one day a week I’m in the library now, and the spots in my eyes are getting smaller, so that’s good. I think I may have done a roundoff during my life. I don’t know about a back walkover, and I am frightened about the roundoff back handspring. But I guess that’s what makes a good library gymnastics coach—they have the confidence that you don’t yet have. Plus, everyone needs goals I suppose. And at the University of Virginia, I know they are supposed to be S.M.A.R.T. goals, so here goes: (1) Specific: “Cartwheel to roundoff to back walkover to roundoff back handspring.” (2) Measurable: “Judges? ‘Ten!’ ‘Ten!’ Ten!’ ‘Eight point five.’ What!!??! You never liked me anyways.” (3) Achievable: “Don’t doubt me.” (4) Relevant. “Well. . . yeah! [eye roll]” (5) Time-based: “Camera-ready by the time our doors open back up.” Cool.

Thursday, April 30: It really is remarkable what a nice job the landscapers and grounds crew do here. I’m not in the library today, as our onsite skeleton crew is on a one-day-at-a-time rotation, so this picture is from the other day. Normally, I could not take this picture because, on any other day, there would be students at these study tables from the time I arrive to the time I leave and I wouldn’t want to bother them. When the library is empty like it is now, sometimes I notice things that I haven’t necessarily noticed as fully in all of the years that I’ve worked here. Some of our second floor study tables really do feel like they are in the middle of a forest when the light is right.

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Ben Doherty

Ben Doherty

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