A few years back our blog featured covers for New Year’s editions from the digital version of our Young Catholic Messenger collection. It was a premier title from Catholic publisher, George Pflaum, located in Dayton, Ohio, between the years 1885 to 1970. In the nineteenth century, Protestant Americans were not very welcoming to the millions of newly arriving Catholics. By the 1880s, these immigrants created a network of parish and parochial schools which taught their own religion and culture. Catholic schooling naturally necessitated having a Catholic educational publishing system. Pflaum, being a pioneer publisher in this field, produced the Young Catholic Messenger, the Junior Catholic Messenger, Our Little Messenger, and, following later the Treasure Chest of Fun and Fact comic book, from 1946 to 1970.
In celebration of Christmas, please see highlights and select examples of YCM Christmas covers culled from several key decades during its existence. The first, created in 1891, featured both a poem and an engraving. Philadelphian author, Eleanor C. Donnelly (1838-1917), was a well-known Catholic writer of her time and created the poem ‘The Babe of Bethlehem.’ Known as ‘The Poet of the Pure Soul,’ she was quite prolific, having over thirty books and pamphlets, and hundreds of poems to her name. She also edited a magazine called Our Lady of Good Counsel, as well as The Catholic Standard and Times, the weekly Philadelphia diocesan newspaper. A collection of her works is held by Villanova University. The engraving, by O. Weimar, depicts sleeping children exhausted from playing with their presents while protected by angels.
The second cover, published in 1909, is in much the same vein as that of the one nearly twenty years earlier, consisting of both a poem and a painting. This poem, titled ‘Happy Christmas’ is relatively unknown. The painting is a work created by William Dobson (1817-1898), the English painter known for his religious scenes. Not only was he associated with the Royal Academy and the Royal Watercolour Society, he also spent time on artistic pursuits in Germany, France, and Italy. The third cover, created in 1935, presents ‘The Carol of a Star,’ by Alice C. Clark, and is illustrated with a ring of various related scenes from the first Christmas, while the fourth and final cover, dated from 1965, reflects the turmoil that existed during the 1960s. The theme pertains to the Biblical question that asks if there is room at the end for weary travelers. This contemporary rendition connects the cover art with a short story about the plight of refugees arriving from totalitarian communist regimes like Cuba and Vietnam.
During spring break week in mid March, as many of the Catholic University community were away from campus, the Archives staff met to discuss our contingency plans for the spreading pandemic. Our researchers from across the United States and the world were beginning to cancel or delay scheduled appointments, and we began to determine how best to shift our services and resources online. With little time to prepare, we readied the stacks for a possible long-term closure.
Friday, March 13, 2020 would end up being the last normal day of work at the Archives. (Yes, Friday the 13th was when our “luck” ran out.)
When we think of essential workers during the current crisis, we rightly think of medical professionals, delivery drivers, grocery and pharmacy employees, custodians, etc. But even among those professions mostly teleworking, there are those who exercise an essential function. In addition to the facilities staff (a huge shout out to them!), many administrators and librarians at Catholic University have continued coming to campus to assist in the transition to online instruction, to guarantee that students and faculty (as well as most staff) could remain safely at home.
As for the Archives staff, we need to monitor our collections to guarantee that the humidity and temperature levels are maintained at proper levels, that leaks are not occurring, or that bugs are not infesting the stacks! Plus, as many online collections as we have, most of our materials are still only available onsite. Each of our staff received a letter marking us as essential employees, able to come in to protect the collections during the strictest period of the DC shutdown.
Does that mean we took unnecessary risks to visit the stacks? No. Most of us continued to telework, with two of our staff (who live close by or can drive in) stopping in one to two days a week to check the collections. (A special thank you to Archivist, John Shepherd, and Special Collections Technician, Brandi Marulli, for keeping the onsite stacks maintained during the first few months of the pandemic. Not to mention Curator, Maria Mazzenga, and Graduate Library Pre-professional, Amanda Bernard, for expanding our digital presence during the shutdown.) As for me? I began to return to the onsite collections in June.
Overall, I have been fortunate thus far. I’ve been able to mostly telework, have kept my livelihood, and been healthy. As a current graduate student, despite my displeasure at endless Zoom sessions, my remote classes have kept me busy. (Knitting during Zoom classes tends to help me stay focused on the lecture/discussion!)
With that said, I do live alone. Many days are long, with my small basement apartment becoming the center for my entire life. For over four months, often the only outdoor activity I may get is an occasional walk or an early morning trip to the grocery store.
My family is back in central Nebraska, and they reside mere blocks from a meatpacking plant forced to remain open, despite becoming a hot spot for the virus. My family had no options for teleworking and the local authorities seemed unwilling to take the pandemic seriously. For months, almost every morning, before logging into my laptop to work remotely, I would talk to my relatives on the phone to see how everyone was doing and check in myself. (So far, so good!)
All this has made me reflect on my short- and long-term plans. Every year, I visit my family several times. But not in 2020. Maybe not in 2021. Wherever I have been in life, I have always found my way back to Nebraska every Christmas and New Years, to see my family and childhood friends. This may be the first time in my life I must skip that journey, for fear of risking my family’s safety by traveling.
I worry about finances, as so many schools and businesses face tough economic choices. I consider my meager savings now as not only a cushion for myself but possibly for my distant family and friends.
While taking graduate coursework during a pandemic is a challenge unto itself, I am relieved to have the distraction. But also taking these courses has helped provide a sense that my life is not stagnating in quarantine, that I am advancing in some capacity while sitting at home most of the week.
I have friends and family who are public school teachers, rewriting their wills as they are potentially put back into classrooms too early, grocery store workers and truck drivers on the “front lines” for months on end with no breaks, and childcare workers furloughed. I know people who (incorrectly) claim the virus is a hoax, and others who will never leave their homes out of fear of getting sick. I know people afraid, people struggling, and people offering hope.
I live mere blocks from a food pantry. One to two days a week since late March, a long line has stretched down the street from it. It is heart-breaking to see, but it is also encouraging that the pantry keeps helping. Volunteers still go in, despite any personal risks to health. Food is still being handed out to each person in that line. Donations keep coming in.
Collecting stories can be exhausting – reliving my own experiences of the pandemic or empathizing with those submitting their own accounts – but it is crucial work to preserve our tales for the future, to vocalize our experiences, and to help us understand that we are part of a broader web of human experiences during challenging times.
There are millions of stories during this pandemic. Many negative, some positive, and most still being written.
Keeping a journal myself, I want to end with one short reflection I wrote a few weeks ago, after I came to campus and had entered the still-closed library:
As I entered Mullen Library at 6:30 in the morning to check on the collections, I found myself alone in the building. Staring over my face covering and fogged-up glasses, I found a sight I usually love – a quiet, uncrowded library.
But not like this.
Not for these reasons.
Not due to a pandemic keeping patrons away and staff at home. Not from an economic crisis forcing us to make hard choices about what services we can provide. Not due to BIPOC students feeling targeted on campus, thus feeling unwelcome in their own library.
So many of us as individuals, groups, and localities have sacrificed to slow this pandemic, have helped those hurting economically, and have protested and started the long-term processes of confronting our own internalized and institutionalized racism.
Staring around me at dawn, this quiet library served as a reminder of both these challenges facing us and the collective actions we are taking to address them.
It is shuttered to help us control the spread of a virus. It is quiet due to staff mostly teleworking, with the Library working to maintain their employment and health in uncertain times. It is a time in which libraries are further reflecting on and working to address institutionalized racism in the profession, while providing (usually digital) sources to help others learn about these issues.
What will define this empty library – the challenges of the present moment or the work that hopefully helps and changes our culture? I’m a historian, not a seer, but I’ll do my best with my small platform in this currently quiet library to help.
In a few short weeks, there may be more people going up and down these stairs. While I’d like to see that, I do have concerns. So I’ll keep my mask and hope handy.
Just one account among many during these times of pandemic, social change, and economic upheaval.
To learn more about submitting your own story, please see this form. Questions or concerns can be addressed to: firstname.lastname@example.org
American student newspapers began appearing on Ivy League campuses such as Harvard, Princeton, and Yale in the 1870s. It took a while longer for their Catholic colleagues to follow suit, with the founding of the Tribune at Marquette University in 1916, The Hoya at Georgetown University in 1920, and The Tower at The Catholic University of America in 1922. Named after the center tower portion of Gibbons Hall, the latter debuted on October 27, 1922 as a four page weekly intending to “serve no individual, no group, no class; it is a publication in the interests of all students.” It also eloquently stated “The Tower is now a living being on the Campus, and will be kept as such only thru the wholehearted co-operation of all the students.” ¹
With a price of ten cents per copy or $1.50 a year, the Tower was initially funded by the University and later by the student government, but also increasingly by advertising.² It became more independent over time and in the 1960s reported in the midst of the tumult over University attempts to fire dissident professor Fr. Charles Curran for teachings contrary to the Church and the resulting student strike on campus. Tower reporters were also front and center for such notable events as the historic visits of presidents and popes to campus, including Franklin Roosevelt in 1933 and John Paul II in 1979. Interestingly, in the 1970s and 1980s, before the advent of email, the unclassified section, where students could print anonymous messages for $1, was quite popular.
The first editor was W. T. Keavny, Jr., Class of 1923, a Law major from Connecticut. Jimmy Cassidy, Class of 2018, a Media and Communication Studies Major from Maryland, who has served since 2017, is the 123rd editor. The first woman to be editor was Mimi Reisman, Class of 1957, a biology major from Pennsylvania.³ Many student contributors went on to later fame (or infamy), including renowned photographer Fred Maroon, Oscar winning actor Jon Voight, Pulitzer prize winning New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd, Washington Post Sunday editor James Rowe, former Republican National Committee (RNC) chair Ed Gillespie, and problematic NBC news anchor Brian Williams.
The print edition of The Tower has changed size several times in its venerable history: twelve by nineteen inches from 1922-1923 to 1925-1926; fourteen by twenty one inches from 1926-1927 to 1931-1932; seventeen and one half by twenty three inches from 1932-1933 to 1941-1944; eleven by seventeen inches from 1946-1947 to 1972-1973; eleven by fifteen inches for 1973-1974 to 2003-2004; and twelve by twenty three inches 2004-2005 to the present. The Tower transitioned to a digital layout in 2003 and in practice has become increasingly digital-only, with occasional print issues as advertising revenue permits.
University archives staff worked in 2008 with several campus departments, including Mullen Library and the Student Association General Assembly, as well as an outside digitization company, Olive, to get archived copies of the newspaper digitized and accessible online. The years 1922-1991 had previously been microfilmed, so these were relatively easy for Olive to scan. Print copies for 1992-2003⁴ were digitized and the combined digital collection web site went live in 2009. Additional years have been added thereafter so that coverage on the Olive site is currently 1922-2013. The most recent years can be accessed on The Tower’sweb site. The library stores backup digital copies and the Archives retains three sets of print copies whenever possible.
In October 2015, CUA Libraries hosted three events on open access. The video presentation for the second event is now available. Terry Owen, Digital Scholarship Librarian at UMD presented on the work he has done to build the Digital Repository for the University of Maryland, DRUM.
My colleague Dr. Maria Mazzenga has blogged previously about digital materials, especially those used in the American Catholic History Classroom teaching sites. My intent here is to review the separate and distinct digital collections that originated from a 2001 grant from the Federal Institute of Museum and Library Services’ National Leadership Program to The Washington Research Library Consortium (WRLC), of which CUA is a member. Each member was asked to provide materials for digitization via WRLC’s collaborative facilities known as the Digital Collection Production Center (DCPC), and CUA provided a total of ten collections during the DCPC’s era of operation, 2002-2010.
I confess that I am not one of those archivists mesmerized by every new shiny bauble that comes along, so I had curmudgeonly doubts about the utility of putting resources into digitizing at that time. Fortunately, taking a chance turned out to be the right thing to do as the collections selected (or ‘curated’) have been enduringly popular and frequently accessed by researchers. However, things have changed since 2010 and the process to create what many would call these ‘boutique’ collections is now being augmented, if not superseded, by mass digitization of a broader range of materials and formats (which my colleague Paul Kelly will talk more about in future). Continue reading “The Archivist’s Nook: Hark! The Digital Angel Comes!”→