In Librariam

   A Hidden Memorial for Cornelia Shaw


In Librariam is a hybrid digital-physical memorial dedicated to Cornelia Shaw, first librarian, first registrar, and first full-time female employee of Davidson College. The memorial consists of five "artifacts" related to Cornelia Shaw which have been placed in five books in the E.H. Little Library at Davidson College. Each artifact provides a piece of information about Shaw's life, and range from her portrait, to letters she wrote, to her own obituary.

Attached to each artifact is a paper sleeve and check-out card. Each sleeve has a unique URL and password written across the front. Following this URL and entering the corresponding password will provide the finder with an explanation of the memorial. The page also encourages the finder to sign the physical check-out card as well as a virtual "guest-book" unique to that artifact.


The Artifacts

Tap/click each card to learn more.

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Photograph of Cornelia Shaw. Quips and Cranks Vol. 15. Davidson: Davidson College, 1912.

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Shaw, Cornelia. Talk on Carnegie Library of Davidson College. 7 December 1910. RG 3/ Library-Shaw. Davidson College Archives, Davidson, NC.


Most things are good or bad by comparison. Before my fellow librarians, any of whom rejoice in buildings that cost thirty and forty and fifty thousand dollars, smile at our pleasure in a new $20,000 book home, they must remember that for 50 years the library of Davidson College was house in a room that had never any way of heating or of lighting it. For three years I wore a muffler and rubber sandals on the cold days, and kept the windows open becuase it warmer outside than in.

Knowing that new building would come, and because it was such a joy to work with and for Davidson students, I stayed by the job. Too, that beuatiful room, with its 50 foot ceiling, and tall windows, back under the the classic pillars, was a delight for three-fourths of the year, though it had been planned with no conception of modern library methods.

Naturally the first spade of earth that marked the beginning of the excavating of the building was thrown amid the cheers of the on-looking students . In December a year ago, the walls began to climb; through the winter and spring we watched its sure growth as one watches a beloved plant, and on June 1st it stood complete.

Four years ago, when the student-body numbered 250, Mr. Carnegie offered $20,000 to build and furnish a library home. For reasons in themselves perfectly good, the building was delayed. In this time the number of students had increased to 340, and we felt that it woul dbe wiser to put the $20,000 (illegible) the building, trusting to the future for furniture and suitable equipment. The thought of making an ornament to the campus entered into our plans, either (illegible) reference to the building itself or its location. It is placed within a (illegible) minutes walk of every dormitory, and no student has to cross the campus to reach the library. Room and convenience was the watch-word. To reach its total capacity of 50,000 volumes two storied stacks will have to be put in to accomodate the last 7,000.

The main stack room is fire-proof, and in the basement is a large vault (illegible) the pfurther protection of valuable books and manuscripts.

The reading room for daily papers and current magazines is large, sunny, and attractive. We have a parolor, offices, seminar rooms, rooms for repairs, pamphlets, magazines bound and unbound, news-paper files, etc. the arrangement (illegible) as largely as possible to meet our own needs and for comfortable administration. All-steel stacks have been placed, and the new furniture bough is in (illegible) English mission. All old furnishings will be replaced by new as fast as we are able to do so.

The system by which the books were classified ten years ago was not roughly satisfactory; two cataloguers from the State Normal School at Genesee, (illegible) came to our help, and with five student assistants, they were entirely classified. The variations made from the Dewey system are largely those in use in the library of the University of Michigan.

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"Cornelia Shaw Dies in Sleep at Page Home Here." The Pilot: 31 Dec 1937. Web. 9 Dec 2015.



Sister of Mrs. Robert N. Page Was Davidson College Librarians For 30 Years


Miss Cornelia Shaw, sister of Mrs. Robert N. Page, Sr., of Aberdeen and of the late Judge Thomas J. SHaw, Greensboro, and the late Rev. Dr. Angus R. Shaw of Charlotte, died at Mrs. Page's home in Aberdeen on Monday night, leaving Mrs. Page the sole surviving child of the late Mr. and Mrs. Peter Cornelius Shaw, one of Moore county's leading pioneer families. She had been ill but a few days and her sudden demise, in her sleep, came as a great shock to an acquaintanceship that was statewide.

Miss Shaw was born February 3, 1867 in Mount Gilead, and moved to Manley in early childhood. She was the youngest child of Mr. and Mrs. Peter Cornelius Shaw, and with them was active in church work and civic enterprises thoughout this section. Last year she completed an unbroken record of service as librarian at Davidson college, and was honorably retired as librarian emeritus, and had recently returned from Europe where she spent the summer and fall months.

Her sister, Mrs. Page of Aberdeen, is the only surviving member of the once large family. The Rev Angus R. Shaw who died in Charlotte about two years ago was her brothers, as well as the late Judge Thomas J. Shaw, who died in Greensboro a few months ago. Thad S. Page Executive Secretary of the National Archives, in Washington, D.C., Robert N. Page, Jr., of Aberdee, and Richard Page of Statesville, are nephews, and Mrs. Kate Page Biddle of Warrenton, Va. a niece.

Angus R. Shaw, Jr., Charlotte, another nephew, also survives. Funeral services for Miss Shaw were held in the Presbyterian church at Aberdeen on Wednesday afternoon, with the pastor, the Rev. E. L. Barber officiating. Interment in the Shaw burial plot in old Bethesda cemetery followed.

Dr. Lingle's Tribute

Miss Cornelia Shaw was known and loved by thousands of Davidson alumni and students and citizens of the Davidson community. She retired from active connection with the college in 1936 when she was made librarian emeritus. A delegation from Davidson attended the funeral services.

"During 30 years of connection with Davidson college, Miss Shaw rendered distinguished service and was honored and loved by the whole college community," Dr. Walter L. Lingle, president of Davidson college, said yesterday in lamenting her death. "She was the author of "The History of Davidson College," a book of more than 300 pages of historical research, which will be one of the monuments of her life."

Miss Shaw went to Davidson in 1905 as secretary to President Henry Louis Smith. Before that time she had been associated with The Presbyterian Standard. In 1906 she was made librarian and registrar and she served in this post until 1921, when she was made head librarian, a poisition she filled until 1936, when she was made librarian emeritus.

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Letter to Miss Parks. 4 November 1919. RG 3/4lb. Library Correspondence, Shaw, Cornelia, 1919-1920. Davidson College Archives, Davidson, NC.


Nov. 4th, 1919.

My dear Miss Parks:-

I am writing to ask that you take especial care of the newspaper clippings loaned to you. You did not tell me that you wanted to take them from the library, as I do not let loose clipping go out. I understood that you were going to study them there. My clipping department represents ten years of collecting, and I consider it more valuable than books, as book can be replaced if lost, but these cannot be, so I always mount them before letting them go out.

I hope you will have good success wtith your debate but I think you are on the wrong side. When women get suffrage something fine is going out of American life that we will never get back, however much we may miss it or want it.

Cordially yours,


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Letter to Mrs. Crittenden. 6 January, 1926. RG 3/4lb. Library-Shaw, Cornelia, Correspondence. Davidson College Archives, Davidson, NC.


January 6th, 1926.

My dear Mrs. Crittenden:- First I want to thank you for your dainty greeting that helped to make mine a happier Christmas. I have tried to answer your questions on the sheet, but in regard to No. 7, I will say more fully that our Reading Room is open (illegible) each week day during the College year, and nine hours on Sundays and holidays and during the summer and winter vacations. The book department is open eight and a half hours each week day during the college year. It is not open on Thanksgiving or Easter or in the vacations. Each Member of the Faculty has a key and he can get and register books as needed in vacation.

I have no help but students, and they are paid 33 cents an hour, four being employed regular and additional help as needed, and they do any thing that I find them fitted to do, from cleaning books to making cata;ogue [sic] cards. I fill out one card for each book, and a student makes or fills in the additional ones. We have no summer school, though sometimes members of the Faculy [sic] have private classes, and he takes out any books needed for his work. If you make out a sheet of averages from your information, I should be glad indeed to see it. I will return it promptly.

Our building is so arranged that all can be closed except the Reading Room, and this is open on Sundays and holidays with no one in charge. I open and close it, and or arrange for this if absent. It is left to the honor of the students and so far this has not been violated.

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     Prior to the completion of this project, Cornelia Rebekah Shaw had, by my count, two memorials at Davidson College. One is strictly physical: at the back of the first floor of E.H. Little Library, sandwiched between the first-floor bathrooms and the head librarian’s office, you can find a short series of portraits of Davidson librarians past. Shaw’s likeness is first in line, of course, as she served as Davidson’s first full-time librarian from 1907 to 1936; Jill Gremmels’, the current librarian, sits farthest to the right. By contrast, Shaw’s second memorial is entirely digital, though like her portrait, it can be tricky to locate unless you know what you’re looking for. Googling “Cornelia Shaw” alone won’t serve up the Davidson College’s Archives’ brief bio page on her, but “Cornelia Shaw Davidson College” will.

     It’s easy to criticize either of these memorials for their inaccessibility. Indeed, in his article "Unremembering the Forgotten", historian Tim Sherratt stresses the political nature of access and the dangers therein. Sherratt points out that the very interfaces which ostensibly open data to the public (e.g. search engines, databases, and archives) are often stingy with their permissions, and consequently access becomes “a process of control rather than liberation.” In the same vein, Shaw’s portrait may be on “public display” in the library, but to actually find it, one must pass a series of checkpoints beforehand, from somehow knowing that it exists (or else stumbling upon it while en route to the bathrooms) to, depending on the time of day and year, obtaining access to the library building itself. Likewise, finding the Davidson Archives’ bio page for Shaw via Google requires, as with any fruitful Google search, a fair degree of finesse and prior knowledge.

     Despite all this, I want to suggest here that limited access may, at least in the case of memorials, offer unique benefits for both the deceased and for visitors. In an age where webpage creators are just as expected to include a “Share” button on their sites as users are expected to click and partake, hidden memorials present a more contained and personal portal to interact with the deceased. It’s that effect of stumbling upon and forging a personal connection with a moss-covered tombstone in the corner of a graveyard – or in my case, becoming increasingly curious in a woman’s portrait I passed in the library throughout the semester. This is a vastly different experience than, say, being the millionth visitor to snap (and inevitably post) pictures of a public memorial statue. Hidden memorials maintain, to some extent, what highly visible ones inevitably sacrifice: a safeguard against the deceased becoming a spectacle or a product.

     Often, the restrictions on viewership implemented by limited access to historical data distort narratives, amplifying certain perspectives while obscuring others. This is certainly the effect that Sherratt encountered in his research of the White Australia polices, and which he sought to dismantle and revert via his project "Invisible Australians". Again, I’d argue that memorials are something of an exception to the rule that ‘closed access = bad’, since the sensitive nature of death and mourning often means that a narrow audience is preferable to and more appropriate than a global one. I, for one, felt far more comfortable creating a memorial for Cornelia Shaw that has perhaps one foot in the public spotlight, rather than its entire body. In much the same way that Cornelia’s bio page implicitly restricts its audience to people already on the archive site or else familiar with both Cornelia’s name and Davidson College, my own memorial for Cornelia will have its own uniquely narrow crowd of viewers. Above all else, it is a means of keeping her memory most alive in the very place where she spent so much of her life.

     Certainly, public access to the past is not always intentional or negotiable. Chances are, the isolated tombstone at the back of the graveyard isn’t so well-hidden because whoever was in charge of putting it there thought it would be a quaint hotspot for future passersby. Financial resources (or lack thereof), social standing, and a host of other factors all mesh together to construct and govern access before a memorial is even in place. But in situations where creators do maintain control over the scope of a memorial’s audience, a question of risk versus reward arises: is the possibility for intimate, happenstance connections with the deceased worth the risk of losing the person’s memory to history? It is certainly possible – and not even that unlikely – that no one will stumble upon my hidden artifacts, and Cornelia Shaw’s memory at Davidson will remain limited to her portrait and online bio page. Of course, I was aware of this possibility going into this project, and I welcomed it; if my goal had been to educate as many people as possible about Shaw, I’d have taken a different approach. Instead, I wanted to memorialize Cornelia Shaw in a manner that represented not only her love for books, but her love for the Davidson community. It only seems fitting that the ones most likely to find this memorial will be bibliophiles and Davidsonians, too.