Letting the Mavericks Loose in the Stacks
In 1826, the Rotunda opened its doors at the University of Virginia and welcomed students into what at the time was one of the finest libraries in the country. With 8,000 books selected by Thomas Jefferson himself, it offered a vast resource to early U.Va students. This magnificent space served as the University’s primary library for over a century. In 1904, Edwin Anderson Alderman, the University’s first president and a pioneer in modern education, proposed the construction of a new million-dollar library. It wasn’t until 1938, after Alderman’s death, that his vision for a new library came to fruition. The new library opened its doors ready to accommodate 100 staff, 1,000 readers, and 600,000 volumes. This vastly increased the size of U.Va’s library system and provided a hub for intellectual exchange and scholarship in Virginia. It was appropriately named Alderman Library.
Today, MSA students benefit from Alderman and U.Va’s other libraries during their annual history research projects in Mr. Fickley’s, Mr. Wawner’s, and Mr. Riddick’s respective history courses. Students tackle a wide variety of historical debates and dive into the stacks of U.Va’s libraries to find evidence and primary source documents to support their claims. This is one of the cornerstone writing assignments each year for students and is part of MSA’s academic writing scope and sequence, which focuses on engaging students in advanced literary analysis and historical debate.
After an intense tutorial on library research provided by U.Va Librarian, Todd Burks, students embark on an adventure in the endless stacks of books and documents in Alderman, Clemons, and the Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Libraries. “It is not uncommon for students to get lost in the stacks occasionally on this field trip. I figure the books won’t hurt them, so we don’t stress too much about it as teachers,” commented Dean of Students, Clay Wawner with an ear-to-ear grin. As students gain their bearings in the library, the path for proving their arguments becomes clearer as gems from primary sources and dusty history books shine again in their essays.
“I’m always impressed with MSA students and their willingness to take intellectual risks with these papers. They go on adventures and find guides in the form of books and manuscripts in this amazing library. Of course, they often become immersed in the University’s extensive databases which are an almost unlimited source of scholarly articles--a researcher’s dream come true! It’s a pleasure to see them darting around Alderman looking for those perfect pieces of evidence for their claims,” commented David Riddick, former History Teacher of the Year in Virginia.
While not every student “strikes it rich” in his or her research during this trip, all students gain an appreciation for the fundamentals of library research and the unending character of intellectual pursuit.
Mr. Alderman would be happy to know that when the doors opened to the library he envisioned, it would introduce not only U.Va Cavaliers but also a bunch of young Mavericks to the joys of research.