Remarks by Dean of Libraries Karen Diaz at the Neal Museum of the Health Sciences dedication on October 28.
President Biden recently issued an Executive Order on Promoting the Arts, the Humanities, and Museum and Library Services. In it he articulates this inspiring statement on these institutions: “The arts, the humanities, and museum and library services are essential to the well-being, health, vitality, and democracy of our Nation. They inspire us; provide livelihoods; sustain, anchor, and bring cohesion within diverse communities across our Nation; stimulate creativity and innovation; help us understand and communicate our values as a people; compel us to wrestle with our history and enable us to imagine our future; invigorate and strengthen our democracy; and point the way toward progress.”
I know that here at WVU, our library archivists are the collectors and stewards of the materials that mark our past. Without these touchstones of reality – of life as it truly was – we forget what was, and in fact are left to invent in our minds what never was. But it is through the interaction with these materials that we learn from and are inspired by them.
Dr. Neal recognized this truth, and the William A. Neal Museum of the Health Sciences was born from his hundreds of hours of research in the West Virginia and Regional History Center, allowing these first-hand materials to tell the amazing story. Exhibit visitors will walk through a vast amount of history, while learning about West Virginia and Appalachia’s contributions to health care that not only impacted the region, but the rest of the world.
Clearly, we are at a precarious time in human history that involves great problems. All these problems directly affect our health. Certainly, COVID created great strain on our healthcare systems. We have seen that it also took a tremendous toll on our mental health collectively. Climate change, global warfare and nuclear threats continue to stress us and challenge our health.
Solutions to those wicked problems and how to care for our minds and bodies as we experience these challenges have to be part of our future. But it is often in understanding our past that we remember how problems have been solved. We are reminded that people before us struggled and innovated. We can track progress. And we find kernels of ideas of how this happened to inspire fresh thinking on our new challenges.
The WVU Libraries are excited to partner in this new endeavor on the Health Sciences Campus. We already provide modern, current medical research services to the campus through the Health Sciences Library. Our exhibits coordinator has mounted numerous exhibits in these spaces. And now we can continue to tell and evolve the story of the past through this museum. We are in the process of hiring a permanent curator with support from Dr. Neal’s permanent endowment, his sister Susan Neal Meyer, and the WVU Health Sciences Center. This curator will bring museum and archives skills to keep the museum current, relevant, engaged, and a destination for our greater community and region.
No project like this is completed without passion, support, and diligence. There are numerous individuals to thank for all of these contributions. The vision was supplied by Dr. Neal. It was allowed to thrive because of the support of Dr. Clay Marsh. It came to life through countless hours of research and writing by the team of Dr. Neal, Dr. John Cuthbert, who is Director Emeritus of the West Virginia and Regional History Center, and Elizabeth Satterfield, then graduate student in Public History and Public Administration and now curator of the nearby Arthurdale Heritage Museum.
The planning group spent countless hours meeting with designers and vendors. Included in that planning group was Zenaba Qadeer, project engineer with Health Sciences Facilities who coordinated all the various trades in putting this physical work together. Our interim director of the West Virginia and Regional History Center, Lori Hostuttler has managed several details required to finalize completion of this work.
It has become very apparent to me over the last few days that a LOT of love has gone into the making of this museum by several alumni who have generously contributed their talent, resources and ambassadorship to tell our story and create inspiration for future generations. Physician and artist, Dr. Larry Krames consulted on design and has worked tirelessly to paint an extraordinary portrait of Dr. Neal (which we will unveil shortly). Dr. Jim Caveney and Karen Caveney supported the brilliant sculptor of the powerful bronze sculpture of Dr. Edward J. Van Liere, founder of the four-year medical school. WVU Dental Alum Burl Jones was the sculptor.
There has been financial support from numerous individuals. As we’ve heard today, Dr. Neal’s sister, Susan Neal Meyers’ early support of Bill’s passion helped to move the entire project forward. I would also like to recognize the support of Dr. John Mikita and Linda Mikita to incorporate a state-of-the-art 3D anatomy dissection table into the museum, and I want to highlight the early and sustained support of the Chicago Alumni chapter.
And finally, what would a great accomplishment like this be without all of you here to celebrate its opening and honor its presence as a new part of our great campus? Thank you to all of you for coming and joining with us today.
By Karen Diaz, Dean of WVU Libraries
To celebrate the new academic year, I’d like to share comments I made at our recent celebration of the 40th (actually 42nd) anniversary of the Evansdale Library. This is a good reminder of how libraries continue to evolve to meet the needs of campus.
In 1978, while I was still in high school, WVU broke ground for the Evansdale Library. By November 1980, when I was taking a year off from my own college experience, the doors opened to students.
It was acknowledged that the growing campus needed an expanded library system that could serve students who now did business on three different campuses within Morgantown. We see from the newspaper accounts that one of the exciting features of this new library was going to be a large microfilm room and an AV lab! Exciting stuff! Having been a college student myself at this time I can imagine the AV space had turntables, cassette players, big heavy headphones, and maybe even a state-of-the-art VHS player. Also present would have been the card catalog. Ah yes, it was the environment of my own learning and experience.
But just as daily life has changed since 1980, so have libraries. In 1980, one had to be present in the library to use it. Quiet spaces were prized. Study was solitary.
We know life is not like that now. Now, you do not even have to come into the library to use it. Or, you might come to the library not to check out a book, but instead to “borrow” a group study room to complete a group project.
When I think of what a library does, I tend to divide us into three buckets. We are collections – or content, we are spaces, and we are expert services. These three buckets were true in 1980 and remain true today. What has changed is how we manage each of those buckets.
First of all, the content is now largely digital. You can use the library from your home or dorm. When you walk in our spaces you do not see 90% of the new content we provide for this campus. It is freeing that this material can be used from anywhere and at any time. And while people have a notion that everything is online and thus libraries are irrelevant, miss the fact that most scholarship – while online – is actually not accessible without subscription which libraries pay to make it available to the community.
But this cloud-based content has not made our space irrelevant. We remain a space where people can come to focus on their academic work. It might mean studying; it might mean borrowing a laptop. It might even mean finding a quiet place to meditate and prepare for the rest of the day’s rigors. Libraries remain a place for the mind to focus – or wander – or rest as it needs to do. This library has also become a space for sharing learning. We host exhibits of art and musical performances by students in the College of Creative Arts, fashion designs created by students in Davis College. We remain a crossroads for the disciplines to bump into each other.
But libraries are also places to find experts. Perhaps now our staff are not spending their time helping you thread a microfilm reel or learn how to use a print index. But they can help you get to a place online where Google will never take you. They can help you use software to manage citations, give tips on storing all your research files so you can find them again, or navigate submission of your electronic thesis or dissertation. Our experts – our staff and librarians – provide so many services that are hard to catalog, seemingly invisible because they are so personalized and tailored to individual need and purpose.
It was important that our state and campus leaders in the 1970’s had the insight to understand the essential underpinnings that a library provides a campus. And that first meant a building. But then that building had to be staffed and then filled with content. Libraries are physical spaces, yes. This building still serves students and faculty, just as it did 40 years ago. But this building still serves students and faculty not at all like it did 40 years ago. Evansdale Library, like all libraries, is timeless and traditional and a place for the life of the mind and spirit. But it is simultaneously adaptable and changeable and ever modern. Taking the opportunity to reflect back on our beginnings we are able to see how far we have come, and to know we will continue to evolve.
Thank you all for celebrating with us today. Come back and enjoy this space every day. And know that when you are in this place, it is here because of leaders who made it so. And it remains here because of people who tend to it daily in so many ways.
The State Journal published this article on March 3.
By Karen Diaz, Dean of WVU Libraries
Women – of all backgrounds – have made important contributions to society. Only recently are we learning more about these individuals and learning to give credit to women where that credit is due. The way we have learned more is through evidence. Often that evidence sits in archives used by historians and others to document how women have shaped society. Due to a long tradition of underrepresenting women and women’s contributions, there are archival silences or gaps in what has been preserved. This undervaluing perhaps also causes those making contributors to undervalue documenting what they have done.
Women, it is important to record how you are acting to improve health, family, racial equity, education, political representation, and more. Your activity might be documented on social media, in a chapter newsletter, in a diary or in newspaper clippings, or in photographs. Women are not a monolith and so having this documentation from women of different races, different age groups, urban, rural, and different walks of life matters. Take time to document your work and your contributions.
In March, our nation will again be celebrating Women’s History Month. It is only because of evidence of women’s contributions to society that we are able to reflect on the various ways in which women have advanced society through art, politics, science, sport, medicine, and so much more. This is often found in archives.
What are you doing to tell your story or to leave records for your family to tell your story? Do you have letters, photographs, memorabilia? Have you interviewed women of note and recorded these interviews? Are these items you can share with libraries and archives to magnify the story of how the women in your life have advanced society? Representation begets representation.
On March 19 at noon, WVU Libraries will host an online session about a newly developing Feminist Activist Archives at the West Virginia and Regional History Center. This new focus in our archive seeks to tell the story of West Virginia women who have actively worked to improve the lives of women of all walks of life. We invite everyone who is interested in learning more about documenting women and archives in West Virginia to join us for this important conversation. Details and a link to register for the event can be found at exhibits.lib.wvu.edu/virtual-offerings.