What’s a “vertical file”?

Have you ever heard the term “vertical file”? Typically, when researchers come in to learn more about a topic, the first place to look is in our vertical files. These are generally folders of newspaper clippings, brochures, press releases, and other items that are arranged by subject. The term itself derives from the vertical filing cabinets that archives may use to hold these collections [for your information, Special Collections uses boxes rather than filing cabinets].

Special Collections has several sets of vertical files:

But I’d like to tell you specifically about the Record Group Vertical Files. This collection is specifically about departments, offices, and colleges at Virginia Tech, including materials advertising the university and articles about it. For example, below is a postcard advertising the Virginia Tech College of Science, the Advisor’s Manual for the VT College of Arts & Sciences, an application for the VT Graduate School, and an issue of the Carilion Clinic Report about the VT Carilion School of Medicine and Research Institute.

In addition to the educational colleges and departments of the university, we have materials from the operational offices and student groups. Below are examples, including brochures for the Perspective Gallery and HokiePRIDE, an official VT flyer in Arabic, a program for the Alpha Kappa Delta National Sociology Honor Society, and an article about the Muslim Student Association.

The finding aid for the Record Group Vertical Files describes some of these groups when possible, including administrative history, former names of units, topics within the terms, and references to other related groups.

Whenever you are looking up the history of the university and you don’t know where to start, this collection is a great place to start. The same holds true for looking up any subjects in all the vertical files we have!


A Look Behind the Glass Door… Part 2

If you are curious what Special Collections looks like behind the scenes, Kira Dietz showed a glimpse of onsite storage previously in this blog. Well, we also have offsite storage in the Library Storage Building, managed by the University Libraries. In addition to Special Collections, Newman Library and the Records Management Department house material at the storage building. Unlike storage onsite, the shelving is so tall and aisles so long, special equipment is used to access materials up to the top and down the rows.

Library Storage Building, length of aisles
Library Storage Building, showing the lengths of aisles and some of the maps we house out there (before they were placed in boxes) alongside the University Libraries’ offsite books and other publications
Library Storage Building, height of aisles
Library Storage Building, showing the height of aisles – on the right side you can see some of the archives boxes and architectural drawings from Special Collections

Special Collections houses our large manuscript collections, most of which are accessed less frequently than onsite storage. Space is available where we can work, but we have to schedule with the other departments who use the same office space. Recently, several students and I have been working on collections housed offsite, including the William C. Wampler Congressional Papers with 250 boxes of files from Hon. Wampler’s nearly two decades in the U.S. House of Representatives and the Pocahontas Mine Collection, which is approximately 900 cu. ft. with over 7,000 maps of mines in southwestern Virginia and Appalachia operated by CONSOL Energy and its predecessors (look out for more info on this collection when processing is done).

A student worker reviews a map from the Pocahontas Mines Collection at Library Storage Building. Some of the maps like this one are so large, we have to unroll them bit by bit and weigh them down to view them during processing.
Wampler Papers at Library Storage Building
Processing the Wampler Papers and other such large collections offsite means we have to temporarily store them in the hall and in the shared office space before they can be reshelved!
Wampler Papers being processed at Library Storage Building
The Wampler Papers during processing at Library Storage Building

The University Libraries are currently working on another offsite storage building, this time with movable shelves. Movable shelves greatly increase the storage capacity in locations, but need strong floors to keep them stable! We also have a small, secure space in the basement of Newman Library that is shared with the rest of the library for temporary storage for our larger or more unwieldy collections, such as part of the Avery-Abex Metallurgical Collection with over 200 containers, many in unusually types and sizes.

I hope that you’ve enjoyed this look behind the scenes!

Not an “Optick-al” Illusion: Rare Isaac Newton Text at VT

In 2007, Special Collections at Virginia Tech was graciously gifted a copy of Isaac Newton’s Opticks or a Treatise of the Reflections, Refractions, Inflections and Colours of Light.

Title Page
Title Page from Opticks, or, A treatise of the reflections, refractions, inflections and colours of light by Sir Isaac Newton

 Opticks was Newton’s second major book on physical science and was first published in English in 1704, with a scholarly Latin translation following in 1706. The book analyzes the fundamental nature of light by means of the refraction of light with prisms and lenses, the diffraction of light by closely spaced sheets of glass, and the behavior of color mixtures with spectral lights or pigment powders.

 The publication of Opticks represented a major contribution to science, and was well received and hotly debated upon its release. Opticks is largely a record of experiments and the deductions made from them, covering a wide range of topics.  In the book Newton sets forth in full his experiments, first reported to the Royal Academy of London in 1672 on dispersion, or the separation of light into a spectrum of its component colors. He demonstrates how the appearance of color arises from selective absorption, reflection, or transmission of the various component parts of the incident light.

 The major significance of Newton’s work is that it overturned the dogma, attributed to Aristotle or Theophrastus and accepted by scholars in Newton’s time, that “pure” light (such as the light attributed to the Sun) is fundamentally white or colorless, and is altered into color by mixture with darkness caused by interactions with matter. Newton showed just the opposite was true: light is composed of different spectral hues, and all colors, including white, are formed by various mixtures of these hues.


 The copy belonging to Special Collections is a 3rd edition of the text, printed in 1721 in London for William and John Innys and was the last edition produced during Newton’s lifetime. This nearly 300 year old leather bound book is in excellent condition, even the fold-out pages containing diagrams of Newton’s experiments.

 The gift was designated by the donors in honor of Matthew Charles Ziegler, Class of 2003. Since it is not recommended that modern materials such as bookplates and their glue be attached to such extraordinary and rare books, this information is noted in the bibliographic record. What a great way to commemorate a Hokie!

Looking Back at the Library

Virginia Tech has a long history and the library (or rather, a library) has always been a part of it.  When the university opened in 1872, there was only a single building and the library was in a room that served as both a library and an office, with an attached reading room. By 1882, the library had moved to the second floor of the Second Academic Building.

Old Library, 1905
Old Library, 1905

By the mid-1910s, what is sometimes referred to as “the Old Library,” had taken up residence in the former chapel. The chapel was the second structure on the site of the current Newman Library (the first was a lecture and laboratory building).

Old Library, interior, 1930
Old Library, interior, 1930
Old Library, exterior, March 1953
Old Library, exterior, March 1953
Old Library, during the fire, August 1953
Old Library, during the fire, August 1953

In August of 1953, the library burned in a fire. Construction of the Carol M. Newman Library began shortly after, and was completed in 1955. The images below show the finished marble staircase on the second floor, and the building from outside. (The pedestrian plaza between the library, the bookstore, Squires Student Center, and the current Graduate Life Center came later.)

Newman Library, entrance interior, c.1953
Newman Library, entrance interior, c.1953
Newman Library, exterior (looking toward the current plaza between the library and bookstore), 1978
Newman Library, exterior (looking toward the current plaza between the library and bookstore), 1978

The interior of the library, at least in the older part of the building, may not look all that different. Stacks have moved and reference desks have shifted, but those familiar pillars and windows are present today. The addition, which includes the glass wall on the first floor, was completed in 1981 (after the pictures below).

Newman Library, interior, 1963
Newman Library, interior, 1963
Newman Library, interior, 1971
Newman Library, interior, 1971

Today’s building has come a long way from a single shared room in the only building on campus, but the goals are still the same: connecting students, staff, faculty, and the larger research community to the resources they need.

The pictures in this post came from the Special Collections’ Historical Photograph Collection. We have thousands of photographs documenting the history of Virginia Tech, from the Corps of Cadets to sports, and from buildings to faculty and staff. There are also lots of photos of Blacksburg and its many changes through the years. So if you’re curious what the corner of Main St. and College Ave. looked like the 1930s, who the first squadron of women were in the Corps of Cadets, or when basketball shorts really were short, we might just be able to help.