November 21, 2017

UVA Libraries Regroup After Weekend of Violence

Alderman Library

Alderman Library, University of Virginia
Photo credit: Sanjay Suchak, University of Virginia Communications

Over the weekend of August 11–13, violent confrontations in Charlottesville, VA, between white nationalists and counterprotesters left many injured and three dead. Now Tyler Magill, a University of Virginia (UVA) library employee, is in the hospital after suffering a stroke on Tuesday, August 15, possibly linked to a blow he sustained when white nationalist marchers massed on the UVA grounds, clashing with students, faculty, and staff.

On Friday night Magill, who works as a liaison with Ivy Stacks, UVA’s offsite shelving facility, had seen the crowd gathering from the library. He joined counterprotesters on the steps of the UVA Rotunda. There, UVA community members linked arms in opposition to the white supremacists, who had gathered on the campus before their scheduled “Unite the Right” rally on Saturday. The UVA standoff turned violent; punches were thrown and pepper spray deployed. Several marchers used the torches they carried as weapons, and Magill was allegedly struck on the neck.

He went on to take part in counterprotest activities in downtown Charlottesville on Saturday, where confrontations escalated and a car allegedly driven by James Alex Fields Jr. plowed into a group of people on a pedestrian mall, injuring 19 and killing Heather D. Heyer. Magill was also active on Sunday as part of a crowd that shouted down Jason Kessler, the rally’s organizer, as he tried to hold a press conference. Videos show Magill trailing Kessler as he was escorted away by a police officer, yelling “Her name was Heather, Jason! Her blood is on your hands.”

Magill was working in the UVA music library on Tuesday when he became incapacitated. The building has been under renovation all summer and was empty, but a maintenance worker happened on Magill and alerted emergency services. He was taken to the UVA Medical Center, where he suffered the stroke; he was in fair condition at press time. Doctors found that Magill’s carotid artery was damaged, potentially from the blow he received Friday, causing a clot that precipitated his stroke.

Friends and coworkers have created a GoFundMe page where well-wishers can contribute to the cost of Magill’s medical care; he currently has no paid leave remaining.

SECURITY LESSONS TO LEARN

At the UVA libraries, administration is working to set up support services for staff and faculty who were traumatized by the weekend’s events, as well as to provide training for working with students who may have been impacted. Other than Magill, “no one else that I know of was injured physically,” UVA dean of libraries John Unsworth told LJ. “But I think everybody has some emotional scars.”

The university will also be examining its security arrangements, said Unsworth. “The library in particular is a building that’s open late hours, and it’s open to the general public, so we have some special concerns and constraints.”

To begin with, new signage is planned outside library entrances to make it clear that guns are not permitted in the buildings, and the administration is making sure that everyone on campus is aware of university gun policies. Virginia is an open carry state, where people 18 or older can carry a firearm in public without a permit. However, university staff and students are not permitted to carry guns anywhere on campus, unless they are part of campus security or the police force, or have a dispensation from the police. Members of the general public may bring guns onto university grounds, but not into academic buildings or to sporting events.

“One of the things that we learned from the protest is that the fascists were more familiar with our gun laws than we were,” noted Unsworth, who reported that many of the participants in the weekend’s events were armed: “There were more guns around here than I’ve ever seen in one place that wasn’t a war zone.” Guns were present during the campus incident as well, he said, although the marchers were careful to stay within the law. “They had really done their homework,” he added. “That’s one of the lessons learned that I would pass along to other libraries, is educate yourself on those policies and laws.”

Some university professors and other counterprotesters have criticized UVA officials for not having anticipated that confrontations would reach campus, according to the Chronicle of Higher Education. Several Twitter posts on Friday warned that the “Unite the Right” groups would be converging on campus that night. Yet when they showed up, met by a group of counterprotesters, the campus police presence was relatively small. At least one professor called 911 during the confrontation to try and bring in Charlottesville police officers, according to the Chronicle.

“Those are legitimate questions, and all the information is not out on the table yet,” Unsworth—who was away from campus Friday night—told LJ. Part of the problem, he believes, was that campus police had also found themselves handling calls from the city of Charlottesville because the city police force was tied up policing events downtown. “It was an unusual situation where resources were stretched thin.”

Nevertheless, he agreed that universities, and their libraries in particular, should prepare themselves to become focal points when protests are planned nearby. “I think university libraries in university towns…should not be surprised if the university itself becomes a target or a desirable venue in which the protesters want to be seen, and want to incite violence,” Unsworth said, “because universities represent many things that those protesters stand against. So just because the statue isn’t on your grounds doesn’t mean that protesters won’t be.”

During the unrest on Saturday, UVA’s Health Sciences Library’s mobilized its Family Assistance Center (FAC), part of the university’s disaster plan, for the first time since it was conceived two years ago. Set up to support and comfort family members of people of injured people who have been taken to the hospital during a Mass Casualties Incident, the FAC was quickly activated by staff as soon as they heard of the clashes taking place less than a mile from campus.

“Throughout the afternoon, grieving and anxious family members were brought into the FAC where they were met by social workers and chaplains,” Dan Wilson, associate director of collections and library services and library liaison to the UVA School of Nursing, reported in a statement. “UVA Health System Telemedicine was on hand to facilitate communication between family members and health care professionals in the Emergency Room, and volunteers escorted family members to and from the FAC. At one point in the afternoon, over 20 family members were in the FAC, and chaplains and social workers were set up in group study rooms to provide comfort in a private setting. Around 7 p.m., word was relayed that the need for the FAC was over and the space was returned to library patrons.”

Although at the time of its inception its planners had hoped never to need it, “Unfortunately,” said Wilson, “we can no longer hope that the FAC will never again be activated. Given the times we live in, we will now plan (and drill) for its next activation.”

RESILIENT PROGRAMMING, PRESERVATION

Donations to Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library from Charlottesville demonstrations

Donations to Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library from Charlottesville demonstrations

UVA may not have been expecting protesters on its grounds, but it had planned to address the issues they brought to Charlottesville. Associate provost for outreach Louis Nelson helped organize a “Reflection Conversation” teach-in to be held in that Saturday at the UVA’s Alderman and Clemons libraries. Scheduled from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., sessions included “Intolerance of Intolerance”, “Power of the Margin: How to Change Institutions When You are the Minority,” “History of the KKK in Charlottesville: Past and Present,” and screenings of several films on race followed by discussions with the filmmakers. The program was shut down midday when Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe declared a state of emergency, which bans assembly in public places. But, said Unsworth, the libraries will offer it again. “We’re committed to going on with the important—I would say imperative—work that libraries do,” added library director of communications Jeff Hill. “We want to do that in the spirit of resilience after the events, and in support of the UVA and Charlottesville communities.”

The libraries stayed open through the end of the day Saturday with Unsworth and his staff on the premises, although student workers were sent home. Keeping the buildings open “was a good thing to do,” Unsworth told LJ, “not only [to offer] a semblance of normalcy but a quiet place for people to go and think and talk to each other.” That morning several hundred prospective students and their families had arrived for a planned campus visit, “and once the state of emergency happened we were about the only [place] in town that they could go,” recalled Unsworth. “So I hope they got a good impression of the libraries, because they didn’t get much else.”

In addition to enhancing programming around social justice issues, the library plans to work closely with the UVA Graduate Student Coalition for Liberation on the Charlottesville Syllabus, and has set up a capture form to nominate relevant web material. The Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library has put out a request for artifacts from the weekend’s events, including protest signs, flyers, and posters.

On Wednesday night, thousands of students, faculty, and staff gathered at the university to show their solidarity and expression their outrage at the events of the weekend. Marchers retraced the route that the white supremacists took on Friday, but instead offered messages of peace.

“The greatest power we have to heal is our ability to support each other,” said Ryan Keen, one of the student organizers. “We have to show what we stand for and what it means to be inclusive. We will not stand for the hate that has been shown here.”

Lisa Peet About Lisa Peet

Lisa Peet is Associate Editor, News for Library Journal.

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