Book Traces: Exploring the Past through Marginalia in Library Books

Post written by Michael Rodriguez, Collections Strategist

Book Traces Event Publicity - November 18, 2020, 1:00pm. Registration required at Co-sponsored by the UConn Humanities Institute and the UConn Library.
Join us for a virtual event about Book Traces on November 8 at 1:00pm. Registration is required at

Book Traces is a national project led by the University of Virginia to discover and document handwritten inscriptions, marginalia, and other readerly markings in old library books. Last year we were interested in knowing if our older collections in the stacks contained interesting marginalia and we discovered some remarkable stories about the books, their readers/owners, and the library that holds them.  

We randomly selected 2,000 UConn Library books published before 1925. We wanted books only with historical annotations – no highlighting or fresh marks! Once our student employee Vanessa Garcia located the book on the shelf, she paged through it and snapped photos of any noteworthy markings using a library-supplied iPad. All the photos were uploaded to, which features crowdsourced images of over 3,100 marked-up old library books. 

What did we find? 

Some 12% of the 2,000 books in our sample contained markings. Approximately 1.5% revealed what University of Virginia scholars call “notable interventions.” Supplemented by genealogical research, these markings give real insight into past readers and owners and enables us to trace the genealogy of library books. Like many universities, UConn Library’s early collections were built largely through gifts of previously owned books. Thus, our findings also give insight into UConn’s history and the growth of UConn’s library.

Inscription in UConn's copy of Chronicle of Calais in the Reigns of Henry VII and Henry VIII. "I have always regretted your secession from the Camden Society,” wrote Nichols, “until now that it gives me the excuse for requesting your acceptance of a copy of the book I have just edited.”

Glued-in Letter from 1846 

UConn’s copy of Chronicle of Calais in the Reigns of Henry VII and Henry VIII was a gift—a peace offering—from prominent English printer John Gough Nichols in 1846. “I have always regretted your secession from the Camden Society,” wrote Nichols, “until now that it gives me the excuse for requesting your acceptance of a copy of the book I have just edited.” Nichols’ letter is glued onto the book’s flyleaf. The unknown addressee must have quit the Camden Society, founded by Nichols in 1838, after a dispute. He or his heirs presumably regifted Nichols’ book to UConn.

Inscription in UConn's copy of In Hospital

Reader Engagement with Poetry

In Hospital, a collection of poems by William Ernest Henley published in 1908, includes a poem called “Children: Private Ward,” on whose page is the annotation “see page 41, R. L. S.” On page 41, the owner of the book had copied in longhand a published letter by Robert Louis Stevenson, author of Treasure Island. Like Henley’s poem, Stevenson’s letter alludes to children in sickbed. The book’s owner evidently felt it was very important to read poem and letter together. He or she may have felt a deep personal connection to the theme of children suffering from illness.

Notes of a Solo Woman Traveler 

Inscription in UConn's copy of Italien Handbuch für Reisende

Italien Handbuch für Reisende is a Baedeker’s German-language travel guide to Italy. Published in 1902, it is filled with miniscule, penciled English reading notes on Italian art and geography. The flyleaf shows an ownership inscription in the name of Ida Prescott Clough, with an address of Friedrichstraße 124 in Berlin, Germany, and a sketch captioned “Shape of Doge’s cap.” This refers to the distinctive hat worn as a mark of office by the Venetian doge, or leader. 

Research reveals that the book’s owner, Ida Prescott Clough (1875–1959) was a Bostonian and Radcliffe College alumna. In 1902, she lived and traveled in Europe, where she likely acquired this German guidebook, in which she jotted countless observations and sketches. Miss Clough journeyed solo in an era when society frowned on young women traveling unaccompanied. Later in life, she taught at Miss Porter’s School for Girls in Farmington, Connecticut.

Pressed Clover and Gift Inscription 

Verse (1862) is a book of poetry by Henry Webster Parker, a native of Danbury, Connecticut, who served as pastor of the North Congregational Church in New Bedford, Massachusetts. This volume’s flyleaf shows the gift inscription: “Presented to Mrs. Elizabeth Mayhew on her ninety-second birthday, with the friendly regards of H. W. Parker. New Bedford, June 26, 1862.” Mrs. Mayhew could have been one of Parker’s parishioners. On page 103 is a very different marking: a delicate clover pressed between the pages by an unknown reader, who perhaps felt inspired by Parker’s poem “More Light.” These verses call for reason to triumph over false beliefs.

How You Can Participate
1. Explore other examples of marginalia and readerly markings on In the dropdown menu “Browse by Institution,” select “University of Connecticut.”

2. Post your own photographs of markings in old library books.

3. Transcribe marginalia already available on

Comings and Goings

Since January we have had the opportunity to welcome new staff to the UConn Library and wished others well as they moved on to other positions or retirements. (Information is for the time period of July 1, 2019-September 30, 2020.)

Welcome to the UConn Library! 

  • Vanessa Blakely, Buildings & Grounds Officer (August 2019)
  • Joseph Clark, Buildings and Grounds Officer (August 2019)
  • Rhonda Kauffman, Metadata Management Librarian (August 2019)
  • Sharon Reidt, Metadata Management Librarian (September 2019)
  • Brooke Gemmell, Greenhouse Studios Design Technologist – made permanent (September 2019)
  • Melica Bloom, Research Services Coordinator, Archives & Special Collections (November 2019)
  • Thomas Lee, Greenhouse Studios Design Technologist – made permanent, (November 2019)
  • Kristina Edwards, Electronic Resources Librarian (January 2020)
  • Garrett McComas, Greenhouse Studios Fellow (February 2020)
  • Jason Anderson, Web Services Coordinator (March 2020)
  • Edward Lim, Business & Entrepreneurship Librarian (March 2020)
  • John Cropp, Access Services Associate (May 2020)
  • Michelle Green, Access Services Associate (June 2020)
  • Nadeen Atiq, Financial Services Assistant (July 2020)
  • Roslyn Grandy, Pharmacy Librarian (August 2020)
  • Hilary Kraus, Research Services Librarian  (August 2020)
  • Roxanne Peck, Associate University Librarian for Collections and Discovery (September 2020)

Congratulations on the following work anniversaries and promotions 

10 years of service

  • Stanley Huzarewicz
  • Theresa Palacios-Baughman

15 years of service 

  • Nanette Addesso
  • Janice Christopher 
  • Bill Haalck

20 years of service

  • Alice Fairfield
  • Joe Natale 
  • Ellie Penn
  • Laura Smith 

25 years of service

  • Kim Giard
  • Steven Batt
  • Richard Bleiler

30 years of service 

  • Fred Rick

35 years of service

  • Hilda Drabek
  • Sheila Lafferty

40 years of service

  • Barbara Mitchell

Librarian Promotions 

  • Jennifer Chaput, Librarian 2
  • Renee Walsh, Librarian 2

Congratulations to our retirees

  • Kathleen Labadorf (July 2019) 
  • Sharon Giovenale (September 2019)
  • Elinor Penn (February 2020)
  • Janice Swiatek (June 2020)
  • Fred Rick (July 2020)
  • Mike Slowik (July 2020)

We said goodbye to colleagues moving on to new opportunities

  • Joel Atkinson (July 2019)
  • Jill Livingston (September 2019)
  • David Ruiz (September 2019) 
  • Bob Swanson (September 2019) 
  • Marisol Ramos (May 2020)
  • Gerald Weis (July 2020)
  • Patrick Butler (July 2020)
  • Carlee Smith (July 2020)
  • Donovan Reinwald (July 2020)

In Memory

  • Tove H. (Sigurdsson) Rosado, Storrs, CT (February 2020)
  • Brinley R. Franklin, Bristol, RI (March 2020)
  • Margaret “Peg” McCormick, Lebanon, CT (May 2020)
  • Sue Carroll Gibbs, Fort Myer, FL (May 2020)

Meet the Staff

We chatted with Dean Anne Langley and asked her a few questions so you can get to know her better. 

Dean Anne Langley
Dean Anne Langley

How did you get into libraries?
I worked as a student assistant in a Library as an undergraduate and watched librarians and the role they played in academia and saw myself being a part of that.

What do you love most about working in a library?
Having access to all the information I could possibly want. 

Why was it important to you that having fun be a part of the values for the Library?
People are more productive and creative when they are having fun and in order to solve the challenges facing academia and libraries we have to be productive and creative.

What are you working on now that you want us to know about?
UConn has a new Provost and we have been working together on several initiatives including finding new models for accessing information, particularly journals. Since UConn also has a new President, we are working together to ensure that we incorporate their goals into building the right library for UConn.

In the midst of the pandemic, what do you do to take your mind off the crazy things happening in the world right now?
I am slightly addicted to BTS (the Bangtan Boys or Bulletproof Boy Scouts, is a seven-member South Korean boy band) and painting in my art studio.

What is a positive that has come from this pandemic?
Realizing how amazing our staff is under pressure and how they have stepped up in their game to support research and teaching at UConn. 

What’s your most used emoji?
Thumbs up.

What was your first job?
Short-order cook at a local diner.

Do you have a crazy library story to share?
In my first professional library position I got in trouble for having too much fun date stamping the journals and organizing chair races. 

What’s your go-to productivity trick?
Using brightly colored pens and paper.

What’s one professional skill you’re currently working on?
Dismantling racism. 

Do you have a hidden talent?

If you could choose a superpower, what would it be?
Finding something good about anything.

From the Archive – UConn’s U.S. Anti-Black Racism Course.

Using activism and social justice collections in Archives & Special Collections.

“These issues are no different than those faced today, which I think highlights the idea that progress is a sustained organizing action and students need to see what has worked in the past and some things that haven’t.” – Graham Stinnett, Archivist

This fall UConn offered a new course designed to introduce students to the foundational history of systemic and anti-Black racism in the U.S. that underlies the current movement. The free course, titled U.S. Anti-Black Racism is coordinated by a team of three faculty of color at UConn through a series of online modules with topics including the history and concepts of systemic and institutionalized anti-Black racism, Black resilience and resistance, and intersectional solidarity.

April 24, 1974, issue of the Connecticut Daily Campus
April 24, 1974, issue of the Connecticut Daily Campus

One of those modules, Anti-Blackness on the College Campus, will highlight the Alternative Press Collections held in Archives & Special Collections. The module explores the Black student sit-in of April 22-24, 1974 at the University of Connecticut’s Wilbur Cross Library.  Using historical documents and photographs, archivist Graham Stinnett contextualizes and explores the recorded past to demonstrate the impact students of color have had in anti-racist activism at UConn.  A video created specifically for the class has been released as part of the celebration of the 25th anniversary of Archives & Special Collections as well as some other resources including photos and an interview with former library director Norman Stevens. 

Black student protest in Wilbur Cross Library, from the UConn Archives, April 23, 1974.
Black student protest in Wilbur Cross Library, from the UConn Archives, April 23, 1974.

Lessons from the Past – Open Access Primary Sources and COVID-19

In celebration of Open Access Week 2020, this is the fifth and final blog in a series written by the UConn Library Scholarly Communications Coordinating Group (SCCG) to explore how Open Access has impacted the COVID-19 pandemic. To learn more about the SCCG and find more resources, see our Scholarly Communications webpage.

As the novel coronavirus has spread across the globe, it has sparked comparisons to past global health crises, such as the influenza pandemic of 1918-1919. Seeking to make sense of the pandemic’s impact, scholars, physicians, public health officials, and journalists alike have turned to the past, drawing upon historical accounts and knowledge of these past events to inform our response today. 

Archives, libraries, museums, and agencies around the world have developed open collections of historical resources and primary sources related to global pandemics, epidemics, and other public health crises. From governmental, political, and public health actions to personal accounts, these freely accessible resources provide important insight and context into how societies responded to and learned from these events, helping us to not only understand our current environment but also to better prepare for the future.  


Sharing PPE Engineering Standards and DIY PPE Maker Designs

In celebration of Open Access Week 2020, this is the fourth blog in a series of five written by the UConn Library Scholarly Communications Coordinating Group (SCCG) to explore how Open Access has impacted the COVID-19 pandemic. To learn more about the SCCG and find more resources, see our Scholarly Communications webpage.

The emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic accelerated the process of sharing information to help stop the spread of the virus. Engineering standards that address the design of personal protective equipment were made available for free by the ISO (International Organization for Standardization) and ASTM International (American Society for Testing and Materials). Normally, all engineering standards are behind a paywall, only available for purchase or by an institutional subscription.   

In addition, the maker community was quick to respond by making CAD drawings on STL files of face shields and sharing them on websites like Thingiverse. Quilting and craft communities shared free templates for fabric face masks, designed to be worn by the public, thereby preserving the supply of N95 masks for medical personnel. To learn more about this, click on the links below. 

How is Open Access impacting the global search for a COVID-19 vaccine?

In celebration of Open Access Week 2020, this is the third blog in a series of five written by the UConn Library Scholarly Communications Coordinating Group (SCCG) to explore how Open Access has impacted the COVID-19 pandemic. To learn more about the SCCG and find more resources, see our Scholarly Communications webpage.

An international effort is underway which includes seventy five countries collaborating on the financing of and research for a vaccine for the COVID-19 pandemic. They will partner with 90 lower-income countries, for a total of 165 countries working together, representing more than 60% of the world’s population. 

Each member country will receive a share of the vaccine doses proportional to their population, regardless of whether they can afford full membership. This is a global collaboration to accelerate the development and production of, and equitable access to, COVID-19 tests, treatments and vaccines. The open access gateway for information on this effort is CURE: Covid-19 Universal REsources Gateway  This is a joint initiative between UNESCO, the Indian Statistical Institute, and the Network of Scientific Journals from Latin America, Caribbean, Spain and Portugal (Redalyc.) 

The United States is not currently part of this global initiative, under President Trump. In the United States, A Framework for Equitable Allocation of Vaccine for the Novel Coronavirus was issued in September, 2020, by the National Academies of Science, Engineering & Medicine. The report was requested by and sponsored by the NIH and the CDC. The report was written to aid in policy and decision-making in the United States and beyond to plan for equitable distribution of a COVID-19 vaccine.

How is Open Access impacting the availability of data during COVID-19?

In celebration of Open Access Week 2020, this is the second blog in a series of five written by the UConn Library Scholarly Communications Coordinating Group (SCCG) to explore how Open Access has impacted the COVID-19 pandemic. To learn more about the SCCG and find more resources, see our Scholarly Communications webpage.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, access to data has become vitally important as infection rates and deaths are tracked, local resource information is made available, and researchers work together to sequence the virus and create a vaccine.  

Data dashboards have become a quick, easy way to share numbers and visual information about the pandemic. The Johns Hopkins University COVID-19 Map has become well-known and shows real-time information about the pandemic in an easy to read format.  

The open data available is also bringing known disparities in the healthcare system into a fresh light.   

Open data in these cases can help you make informed choices about staying safe in your community, can help you understand the ongoing pandemic, and can highlight areas where you can take action and stay informed about how the pandemic is affecting others around you.  

How is Open Access impacting the availability of research articles on COVID-19?

In celebration of Open Access Week 2020, this is the first blog in a series of five written by the UConn Library Scholarly Communications Coordinating Group (SCCG) to explore how Open Access has impacted the COVID-19 pandemic. To learn more about the SCCG and find more resources, see our Scholarly Communications webpage.

Open book icon.

During a time of global pandemic some countries, publishers, and institutions are making access to research articles on COVID-19 publicly accessible. In a crisis it’s crucial that important research not be barred from use by subscription paywalls. 

The emergency measures in academic libraries in response to COVID-19 have made available for the first time vast quantities of previously unavailable digital resources for research and teaching. This has demonstrated the great value and savings in time, travel expenses, and even carbon emissions that open educational and scholarly resources can make possible. The success of these temporary measures greatly strengthens the case for the expansion of Open Resources in academic libraries on both practical and economic grounds. There are major cost savings embedded in the embrace of Open Resources, sometimes not readily apparent on the balance sheet, but nevertheless indisputably demonstrable upon close examination. 

Some examples of open access in this time are below. For much more information, check out SPARC Europe’s The Coronavirus and Open Science: Our reads and Open use cases

Examples of countries working together to make research widely available: 

⦁ Twelve countries’ science advisors wrote an open letter to publishers of science research content to make all research on the coronavirus and COVID-19 available for free through PubMed Central or other nationally recognized repositories. 

⦁ The Chinese Academy of Sciences has created an online platform for distributing scientific research of COVID-19 studies.

Examples of publishers making research information available: 

⦁ A variety of STM publishers made content about Coronavirus and Covid-19 openly available because of the pandemic: 

⦁ More than 30 publishers have made their Coronavirus and Covid-19 content available immediately through PubMed Central and other public repositories. 

Examples of organizations making research information available: 

⦁ OpenAire, a European based collaboration of partners and stakeholders, has “created a specific Community to collect all research results that could be relevant for the scientific community worldwide working on the Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) and SARS-CoV-2.” 

⦁ The Inter Academy Partnership, a collection of 140 national, regional and global member academies, have put out a communique calling for collective open action against Covid-19. 

UConn and CSCU Libraries Partner to Acquire eBooks

The UConn Library and Connecticut State Colleges & Universities (CSCU) Library Consortium have partnered to acquire major university press eBook collections from Walter De Gruyter Inc. The first of its kind, this purchase lays the foundations for future library partnerships among all public institutions of higher education in Connecticut.

The partnership gives students, faculty, and staff at UConn and all CSCU institutions permanent online access to almost every book published by:

  • Harvard University Press, 2000-2020
  • Iberoamericana Vervuert, 1979-2020
  • University of Chicago Press, 2017-2020
  • Yale University Press, 2016-2020

Access to these approximately 4,800 books is through the De Gruyter platform, which allows chapter-by-chapter downloads in PDF format without restrictions on simultaneous users. Faculty may adopt these books in their courses and are encouraged to consult with their institution’s library about linking for off-campus access. CSCU and UConn are also permitted to lend the whole eBooks to other libraries nationwide, enabling even more inclusive access.

“This collaboration is an example of the work we are doing at UConn to find innovative and sustainable models of providing access to materials that are vital to research and teaching,” said UConn Provost Carl Lejuez. “This partnership maximizes cost savings and underscores our commitment to working with colleagues across CT on the critical role we all play in advancing scholarship.” CSCU Provost Jane Gates concurs, adding, “The CSCU libraries provide critical resources to our students, and I am pleased to support this innovative partnership with UConn, particularly in the current environment where remote access is more important than ever.”

Kenneth McNeil, Professor of English at Eastern Connecticut State University, commented that “It’s wonderful we have obtained this collection, which will be a great new resource, especially for our students. And the ability to adopt eBooks for use in courses is an added bonus.” Via this purchase, “hard-to-find, in some cases prohibitively expensive texts have become immediately available,” observed Margaret Breen, Professor of English and Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies at UConn. “The investment reflects support crucial for scholarly research and training.”

Students, faculty, and staff may browse and access the newly acquired eBooks by visiting their institution’s library website and then searching for DeGruyterCT in the library’s catalog. To learn more about these ebook collections, please explore De Gruyter’s University Press Library or contact or