Director’s Corner - Summer 2020

August 4, 2020

Greetings to all from the Lewis Walpole Library.

LWL’s summer Newsletter generally offers highlights of recent library activities, as well as a preview of key events and programs for the fall to come. This issue is no exception. However, as features in this issue reflect, the unprecedented circumstances of the global Covid-19 pandemic have decisively shaped the Library’s course over the past several months, and will continue to do so in the months ahead, presenting both new challenges and new opportunities to library staff and to the community of friends and affiliates of the Lewis Walpole Library, both near and far.

Since mid-March, when Yale University temporarily shut down virtually all on-campus operations and services in response to the rising Covid-19 pandemic, most of the staff of the Library have been working entirely from home.  With our Reading Room closed indefinitely, and direct access to collections suspended, staff reference and research assistance shifted to remote services only, as Susan Walker, Head of Public Services, and her colleagues leveraged Yale Library’s extensive online resources, including digitized content from the LWL collection itself, in conjunction their own subject expertise and long-time acquaintance with the Library’s collections, to respond to research inquiries from the Yale community and beyond, including members of both our 2019/20 and 20/21 cohorts of LWL research Fellows, whose anticipated research residencies in Farmington have had to be postponed. Our Technical Services team, led by Ellen Cordes, has demonstrated exceptional initiative and creativity in finding ways to continue to expand and enhance the representation of the LWL’s holdings in Yale’s online catalog, digital library, and archives databases, without having direct access to the physical collections themselves, while selectors have continued to acquire new materials that both build on familiar collection strengths and also suggest possible new directions for future growth. (To learn more about these newest acquisitions, we encourage you to monitor the Library’s long-standing, Recent Antiquarian Acquisitions Blog.)  Meanwhile, under the leadership of Curator of Prints, Drawings, and Paintings, Cynthia Roman, an ambitious agenda of on-site, in-person academic programs, plus two exhibitions originally scheduled for late spring 2020 through early fall, have been reconceived.  Some programs have been converted into online-only offerings. Other programs, which do not as readily lend themselves to an online format, remain on hold while we work with our collaborators, among them former LWL Fellows as well as members of the Yale community, to consider best options for future delivery.   

While most staff have been working from home since March, the Library’s Building Operations and Facilities team, headed by Tom Charette, has maintained an on-site presence in Farmington throughout the campus closure, to ensure the security and ongoing maintenance of the Library’s buildings and grounds. In recent weeks, Tom and his team have been actively engaged in preparations for limited reopening, initially to the Library staff, and eventually to Yale faculty, students, and other authorized Yale affiliates this fall, by appointment only.  Regrettably, to better ensure the health and safety of members of the Yale community, the LWL campus will remain closed to un-affiliated researchers and to the general public, and the Library’s in-residence, international research Fellowship program must remain on hold, at least through the end of the calendar year.

As we look to the academic year ahead, we wish also to pay tribute to two long-time members of the LWL Board of Managers, who died this spring.

Hugh C. Macgill (1940-2020), former Dean of the Law School at the University of Connecticut, served on the LWL Board from 1996-2020, and also served a range of regional civic organizations, among them the Connecticut Humanities Council, the Connecticut Historical Society, the Watkinson Library at Trinity College, and the board of Miss Porter’s School, in Farmington.    

Joseph Peter Spang, III (1934-2020), served on the LWL Board from 1995 to 2014.  He was an avid collector with interests in American history, architecture and material culture, a member of the Walpole Society, and the founding Curator at Historic Deerfield, a position he held from 1959 until his retirement in 1986.  The Joseph Peter Spang III Fellowship at the Lewis Walpole Library is awarded to projects that focus on Anglo-American connections. 

Both Hugh and Peter were passionate advocates of libraries and historic preservation, the tradition of Wilmarth S.  and Annie Burr Lewis, and each was equally committed to the mission of the Lewis Walpole Library as one of the foremost research centers for eighteenth-century studies and an essential resource for the study of Horace Walpole and Strawberry Hill. But perhaps what people will recall most about the two memorable personalities is their irrepressible zest for life, and their wit and good humor. Each will be sorely missed by family and friends, but also by the numerous civic and cultural organizations on whose Boards they served or whose work they supported through their advocacy and action.

by Nicole Bouché