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UVA card catalog takes readers back in time

UVA Research Librarian Mandy Rizki
Radio IQ
UVA Research Librarian Mandy Rizki

If you’re a library lover of a certain age, you remember the card catalog – a wooden box filled with drawers of index cards organized alphabetically by authors’ names. In the 1980’s, that approach to finding books fell to new technology – digitized indexes that allow people to search online from anywhere.

But at UVA’s main library, you can still find three card catalogs.

"Or if you’re really a nerdy librarian, a slip index, because the things that are in it are actually slips of paper," says reference librarian Mandy Rizki.

There are indexes for UVA’s Alumni News, various newspaper clips and the student paper known as the Cavalier Daily, which dates back 150 years.

"Let’s look up radio," she suggests. "I’m going to go to the R’s for the Cavalier Daily and it gives us a whole bunch of dates. I see articles from the 1930’s, the 1940’s. Let’s start there."

The paper slips send her to a neighboring bookshelf where we find back issues of the Cav Daily. They contain quirky clues to student culture over the years.

"You’ll find cards about student organizations that were really popular in their time," she explains. "Here’s the model railway club. It was organized in 1951. Sounds charming!"

Of course, there were other student activities including the annual spring celebration called Easters.

“There must be 20 cards on Easters alone," Rizki remarks. "I see articles dating back to 1892.”

Follow those slips of paper to the archive and you learn that what began as a week of formal dances following Easter Sunday got to be pretty wild by the 1970s with students wallowing in fields of mud, swilling drinks made with fruit juice and grain alcohol. Playboy Magazine called it the best party in America, and people came from far and wide to celebrate.

In 1976, about 15,000 were slipping and sliding through an area called the Mad Bowl. Yards of surrounding fraternities were destroyed and dorms flooded as mud clogged shower drains.

“Here’s something from 1977: Easters mud tradition bites the dust," Rizki says as she flips through the cards.

Despite student protests, the Easters tradition was phased out over the next five years.

Librarian Rizki says UVA has started digitizing its clip collection but has not tried to tackle the Alumni News and Cav Daily. It would likely be an expensive job that could take a very long time as people hired to do that tedious work are distracted by the stories that are part of local history.

Updated: July 9, 2024 at 8:35 AM EDT
Editor's Note: The University of Virginia is a financial supporter of Radio IQ.
Sandy Hausman is Radio IQ's Charlottesville Bureau Chief