Libraries Lead ‘Play Nicely’ Upgrade, Introduce Spanish and Arabic Language Options

Vanderbilt University Medical Center’s program, Play Nicely, designed to assist parents in avoiding aggressive behaviors when raising children, is undergoing a significant update. Originally developed over 20 years ago by Dr. Seth Scholer, a physician at VUMC, the program’s website is now being revamped with the help of Jean and Alexander Heard Libraries. The objective is to release a new version of the application, incorporating animations and videos from previous versions while also introducing Spanish and Arabic language options. 

The project commenced in mid-March with a target completion date by the end of June. Professor of Pediatrics Seth Scholer actively participated in the process, providing guidance and working closely with Director of the Digital Commons Cazembe Kennedy to explore various options available to the project’s coordinators. As part of the project, Kennedy accompanied Scholer on a tour of the Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt, showcasing the earlier versions of the program and its connection to current caretaker assessments used at the hospital. 

Under the leadership of Kennedy, the project is progressing smoothly, engaging key internal and external stakeholders. As a multitiered collaboration within the libraries, Kennedy adopted Chief Digital Strategist Clifford Anderson’s proposed architecture processes and structured them into multi-week sprints. A consulting team was assembled within the library to oversee the different phases, with specialized subcontractors in website design and development enlisted based on the project’s requirements. Collaboration with Vanderbilt’s Translation Services teams enabled the translation of the website into Spanish and Arabic, thereby broadening the project’s reach and capacity to support a larger number of patients. Overcoming language barriers is crucial in delivering sustainable, high-quality care. Throughout the process, Scholer provided valuable feedback and addressed queries essential to completing the work. 

The libraries’ expertise in comprehending project needs and effectively interacting with individuals possessing diverse skill sets has proven instrumental in ensuring the efficient completion of the work. Kennedy noted, “The libraries approach potential solutions to digital project thoughtfully, respecting the time, space, and people involved in the process.” 

Vanderbilt Librarians Join Wond’ry to support Map the System Challenge 

Vanderbilt Libraries are working with the Wond’ry to bolster engagement and success of Map the System, a global challenge focused on addressing social and environmental challenges. Hosted annually by the University of Oxford, Map the System is a renowned global competition encouraging students to use systems thinking to move “toward a focus on deep understanding of complex problems as the foundation for driving transformational change.” Last year, a team of graduate students from Vanderbilt University placed in the global finals, demonstrating the institution’s commitment to exploring innovative approaches to the world’s most pressing problems. This year, the winning Vanderbilt team won a new regional round to compete in July as one of only two global finalists from the United States. 

Librarians HD McKay, Emily Bush, Alex Carroll, and Robbi DePeri deepened the collaboration with the Wond’ry this year by providing valuable resources and expertise, including the creation of a custom resource guide on Brightspace, the university’s learning management system. The librarians presented research strategies and demonstrated key resources to help participants frame their initial topics and plan their stakeholder interviews. They consulted with the winning team and provided feedback at critical moments during the research process. McKay went above and beyond to help with the planning and reflection phases of the local competition, in addition to volunteering for the competition itself.   

HD McKay and the librarian team worked closely with Jackie Hansom, the program manager for social innovation at the Wond’ry, to kick off the program with an inaugural workshop held research consultations, supported the successful execution of the final event, and provided timely feedback and suggestions to the winning team in preparation for their regional round. For next year, the team is exploring ways to help showcase student work, co-sponsor timely thematic programming, and celebrate student achievements in creative ways. This ongoing partnership underscores the libraries’ commitment to enriching student experiential learning and deepening engagement across campus.  

“Librarians are the greatest, and the ones helping us out with Map the System made sure we knew about our VU access to newspapers,” commented Jackie Hansom, expressing gratitude for the invaluable support provided by the librarians. She continued, “HD and the library team have been enthusiastic thought partners and collaborators throughout the Map the System program. From the onset, they have expanded our students and our own understanding of resources as well as research methods, and we look forward to continuing to work together as we kick off the next round of Map the System this fall.” 

The Map the System program at Vanderbilt aligns with the university’s commitment to providing engaging opportunities for faculty, students, and staff to actively participate as researchers, scholars, innovators, and problem-solvers. Through interdisciplinary collaboration, students are addressing pressing real-world topics such as climate change, public transit, and racial injustice. The program’s global reach offers the potential for Vanderbilt teams to compete on an international stage.  

The successful integration of librarians into this immersive learning opportunity highlights the commitment to interdisciplinary collaboration and co-curricular learning experiences at Vanderbilt. Jackie Hansom, HD McKay, and the entire librarian team have been instrumental in expanding the boundaries of traditional library liaison roles, enriching student engagement, and adding value to the Map the System presence at Vanderbilt.  

For more information about Map the System at Vanderbilt, please visit  

Law Librarians Design Legal Research Course for New Master of Legal Studies Program

Law librarians at Vanderbilt University joined forces with Vanderbilt Law School and the Office of Digital Education to develop an innovative legal research course for the recently launched online Master of Legal Studies (MLS) program. The collaboration between Meredith Capps, Katie Hanschke, Clanitra Nejdl, and Mark Williams from the Law Library and the Office of Digital Education has resulted in a comprehensive and engaging 3-credit course that officially commenced in March of this year. 

The course, Legal Research, is a key component of the law school’s MLS curriculum, introducing students to the basic tools and strategies of legal research. It teaches students to navigate specialized resources for conducting legal research and develops their legal research skills more broadly. Students can expect to learn how to independently identify and locate appropriate resources to answer common legal research questions and work through a variety of scenario-based case studies. With strong working knowledge of information sciences and a deep understanding of the needs of law students, the law librarians have taken charge of the course’s design, ensuring that it aligns with the program’s objectives. They meticulously compiled the course’s learning objectives, assessments, and instructional materials, and recorded instructional videos, to create a dynamic and enriching learning experience. 

Clanitra Nejdl, research services librarian and head of professional development for the Law Library and lecturer in law, recently completed teaching the legal research course to the first cohort of students enrolled in the program. Her expertise and dedication have been instrumental in the course’s successful execution. As the program transitions into its next phase, Nejdl’s insights offer valuable perspectives on both the planning and implementation stages. “The students were extremely engaged and excited to learn about legal research. It was gratifying to see how the legal research course expanded their professional skills” said Nejdl. 

“This initiative demonstrates our commitment to partnering with law school faculty and fostering meaningful engagement in student experiential learning,” said Katie Hanschke, head of instruction and access services for the Law Library and lecturer in law. “By involving law librarians at a crucial point in the teaching lifecycle, we have demonstrated a transformative example for the integration of librarians into the curriculum.” 

The course benefitted from a close collaboration with Vanderbilt’s Office of Digital Education, enabling the law librarians to integrate technology and online learning tools to enhance the course’s accessibility and interactivity. By leveraging digital platforms, they have effectively bridged the gap between the physical library resources and the virtual learning environment, providing law students with the necessary resources and skills to conduct successful legal research. 

The online Master of Legal Studies program, introduced by Vanderbilt Law School in January 2023, caters to individuals who are not seeking to become lawyers, but rather who want specialized knowledge to solve law-related problems, identify areas of risk, and collaborate effectively with counsel.  

For more information about the Master of Legal Studies program, please visit 

Digitized History of Africans in the Atlantic World Finds Permanent Home in Heard Libraries

In February 2023, the Jean and Alexander Heard Libraries announced the transition of the Center of Digital Humanities to its portfolio. This transition includes the stewardship of ongoing research projects that contribute to the university’s research profile and scholarly footprint, including the Slave Societies Digital Archive, which, after a long history of support and collaboration, finds a permanent home in the Jean and Alexander Heard Libraries.  

The Slave Societies Digital Archive (SSDA), formerly known as the Ecclesiastical and Secular Sources for Slave Societies, is directed by Gertrude Conway Vanderbilt Professor of History Jane Landers and hosted at Vanderbilt University. Launched in 2003, its mission is to identify, catalog and digitally preserve endangered archival materials documenting the history of Africans and their descendants in the Atlantic World. The SSDA’s largest and oldest collections were generated by the Catholic Church, which mandated the baptism of African slaves beginning in the fifteenth century and later extended this requirement to the Iberian New World. The baptismal records preserved in this archive are the oldest and most uniform serial data available for the history of Africans in the Atlantic World and offer the most extensive information regarding their ethnic origins. 

The libraries have provided infrastructure and program support to SSDA since its inception. University Librarian Jon Shaw noted, “The research interests of our faculty are always evolving. Our goal is to provide faculty with the space, resources and expertise that bring their digital projects to fruition. The libraries are building a dynamic culture of project management for Vanderbilt faculty and their research.”  To enable the access and organization of digital records, Landers partnered with the Library Technical & Digital Services. To support consistent and reliable access, Director of Library Technology and Digital Services Dale Poulter maintained the project’s infrastructure, adding collections as they arrived, and managed the migration of the project to different platforms as the requirements for supporting digital projects evolved over time. When it comes to project management, Poulter stated, “When the libraries take on a digital project, we always take the technical requirements into consideration. It’s part of our commitment to faculty research.”  

In addition to technical support, Librarian for Latin American, Iberian and Latino Studies Paula Covington participated in digitization trips to Cuba and Colombia. In February 2005, Covington traveled with Landers and a small group of graduate students and archivists to preserve more than 40,000 images from churches in Havana, Regla, and Matanzas, Cuba. While working with these documents in Cuba, Covington recalled, “I saw firsthand how fragile and endangered these materials are, some beyond recovery.” Landers added, “We race against time to save these unique documents that are endangered by climate, political instability, and the poverty of many of the locales in which we work. Some of the records we digitized in Cuba no longer exist in material form, but thanks to the support of the Heard Libraries, they are freely available to researchers online through SSDA. 

The libraries have also provided invaluable program support by connecting the project to different funding streams through Vanderbilt’s Trans-Institutional Program, the American Council of Learned Societies, and the National Endowment for the Humanities. In 2016, a series of additional grants from the British Library Endangered Archives Programme, the Historic St. Augustine Research Institute, and the Diocese of St. Augustine enabled the expansion of the archive’s preservation efforts. The archive now holds more than 700,000 digital images drawn from nearly 2,000 unique volumes dating from the sixteenth through twentieth centuries that document the lives of an estimated four to six million individuals. Covington and Poulter’s work on this project, along with that of Chief Digital Strategist Clifford Anderson, has been featured in numerous workshops, presentations, and panel discussions, often drawing connections between this project and related library collections, most notably the Manuel Zapata Olivella collection. Mellon Assistant Professor of History and Digital Humanities and Executive Director of the project Daniel Genkins noted, “As the SSDA project enters its third decade, we’re extremely grateful for past support from the Heard Libraries and are looking forward to working together even more closely in the years ahead, combining our expertise to build innovative and robust digital infrastructure for SSDA and related library collections.” 

Vanderbilt archivists reflect on university’s 1874 time capsule while preparing to create another for the next generation

As Vanderbilt began renovating Kirkland Hall in 2022 in anticipation of the Sesquicentennial celebration this year, a tantalizing piece of history awaited construction crews. In its cornerstone was a time capsule, interred in 1874 when the building was still known as the Main Building. Shortly before the capsule was exhumed and opened this winter, University Archivist Kathleen Smith shared her excitement—and apprehension: “You don’t know what condition the materials will be in.”  

Smith knew what was inside, thanks to a newspaper article of that era listing the capsule’s contents. Those objects highlighted what the university community valued so soon after Vanderbilt’s founding: a Bible and a hymnal, newspapers and church circulars, and a copy of Cornelius Vanderbilt’s original donation papers.  

When the capsule was opened in late February, Smith was disappointed to find that the copper box had been infiltrated by an archivist’s worst enemies: water and mold. “The paper items are almost a complete loss,” she said. She’s now part of the team working to salvage some of the contents.

It’s a painful but useful object lesson for the preservationists planning another time capsule for Kirkland’s new cornerstone. But to Vice Provost for Arts and Libraries Tracy Sharpley-Whiting, Kirkland itself is a time capsule: It’s a beautiful, stately structure that embodied the founders’ hopes for the university 150 years ago. “But it’s leaky. It’s not ADA-compliant,” she said. So the updated Kirkland will retain its venerable elegance while honoring modern priorities of functionality and accessibility. “Kirkland is representative of this time capsule,” she said—simultaneously preserving history and looking ahead. 

Sharpley-Whiting says that the grand sweep of aspirations across time is exactly what a capsule should communicate. So as she, Smith and University Librarian Jon Shaw work together to design a time capsule that will convey a message to the future university community, they are seeking recommendations on what to include in the next time capsule, set to be unearthed decades from now. 

A campus survey is now available for the Vanderbilt community to make suggestions on what the new time capsule should contain. Ideas are now being collected to fill the shoe box–sized box with meaningful relics from life at Vanderbilt today.  

“When that box is unearthed, what will future generations deduce from our initiatives and goals?” Shaw said. “Perhaps it will be a leaf from the Sesquicentennial oak or maybe a signed baseball—the confines of our project are limited only by your imagination and the size of the cornerstone.” 

*This story is a reprint of a story featured by Vanderbilt News. A portion of this story will be published in a forthcoming Vanderbilt Magazine article by Kim Green. Read the full story authored by Green on how to create a time capsule in that issue. 

Historians, data scientists work to preserve endangered Middle Eastern culture with NEH grant

Vanderbilt Divinity School and the Jean and Alexander Heard Libraries announced a grant of $350,000 from the National Endowment for the Humanities that is enabling Vanderbilt to partner with Texas A&M and Marquette universities to continue preserving the history of Syriac culture. Syriac is a medieval dialect of Aramaic once spoken widely by Middle Eastern Christian communities. 

Linking Texts and Data from the Medieval Middle East: Next Generation Discovery and Access Tools for Syriac Cultural Heritage” is a collaborative digital project focused on making English translations of Syriac literature freely available online for students, scholars and the public.  

This innovative project uses data science to aggregate information and create software for preserving Syriac heritage. Specifically, the project will supplement the translation database with a linked data research tool designed by the Vanderbilt libraries. The result will be a next-generation digital reference work featuring the rich poetry and history of Syriac culture, and it represents the long-standing collaboration between faculty and library staff to combine research excellence with expertise in preservation and digital collections in the development of Srophé, a cultural heritage database platform.  

“As librarians, we are excited to support Professor [David] Michelson and colleagues in the preservation of this endangered cultural heritage by drawing on our developing expertise in scalable and sustainable linked data applications,” Heard Libraries Chief Digital Strategist Clifford Anderson said. Michelson is an associate professor of the history of Christianity and classical studies. 

The data published by this project will be added to The Syriac Reference Portal, a long-standing digital collection curated by the Vanderbilt libraries. The digital collection has previously been funded by NEH grants received in 2012 and 2015.  

“’s work preserves and makes Syriac culture accessible for all. This is an essential expression of Vanderbilt University’s mission as an institution that is dedicated to preserving the world’s knowledge with a special focus on minority and endangered cultures,” said Emilie Townes, dean of Vanderbilt Divinity School.  

The Syriac language today survives in use by minority populations in Iraq, Syria and other countries in the region. Documents in Syriac are some of the most valuable historical sources for understanding the development and interaction of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. These Syriac sources offer unique perspectives on the history of the Middle East from Roman and Byzantine times into the Islamic era and even up to the tumultuous present day in Syria, Iraq and Turkey. Outside of its value to historians, this project offers the Syriac diaspora communities a new means of access to information about their own identity and history, as war and political strife have disrupted traditional institutions of cultural memory and preservation for many in the Middle East. 

“As the New Testament accounts make clear, some of the earliest Christian communities were Aramaic-speaking. Until recently, however, the history of Syriac Christianity was rarely taught or studied in most universities in the English-speaking world,” Michelson said. “This project makes an online collection freely and conveniently available for research and teaching about Syriac in English. These resources will benefit all kinds of students and will be especially valuable to Syriac communities outside the Middle East who are seeking to share their unique heritage with future generations and the world.” 

Vanderbilt’s research team is led by Michelson with support from Steven Baskauf, Heard Libraries data science and data curation specialist, and lead developer Winona Salesky. Students will participate in the project through Immersion Vanderbilt, gaining experience in the digital preservation of cultural heritage. 

The grant proposal was supported by Research Development and Support, which offers proposal development assistance for private (foundations) and federally funded opportunities. Services include searches for new sponsors, coordination and team building for proposals of any size, content development and draft review. RDS further supports faculty by building relationships with external sponsors, hosting workshops and providing guides and language for common proposal requirements. RDS is in the Office of the Vice Provost for Research and Innovation. To learn more about RDS or request services, email

This story is a reprint of a story published by Vanderbilt News.

The Hustler Now Fully Digitized and Available to Alumni and Researchers around the Globe

Jean and Alexander Heard Libraries have made one of the most requested archival resources available online to a global audience just in time for the Sesquicentennial. The Hustler, Vanderbilt’s oldest student newspaper, has been in circulation since 1888. First published by the Calumet Club (1888-1898) and then the Vanderbilt Athletic Association (1889-1917), it has been published by the students since 1917 under supervision of a publication board now known as Vanderbilt Student Communications, Inc.  There are no early issues available of The Hustler until 1893 due to fires and vandalism.  Only recently has one issue from 1890 been donated to the University Archives by the family of an alum. 

Until 1967, The Hustler was published weekly but in 1968 it expanded to twice a week. By the 1990s it had again become a once-weekly publication.  From 2007 to 2016, the newspaper maintained an electronic format and paper issues. In 2016, The Hustler was converted to an all-electronic newspaper. The University Archives now works with Vanderbilt Student Government to assist in archiving the digital files of The Hustler. 

The Hustler is a vital part of recording our university’s history through the eyes of generations of student writers and back copies are frequently requested from Vanderbilt alumni. Noted alum Thomas Upchurch, “Wow. One of my regrets from my college years is that I didn’t keep a scrapbook, or a journal. So many details get forgotten. These old Hustlers will shake loose a lot of old memories. Thank you, and thanks to the library, for this gift to a lot of old grads. I can hardly wait.” 

The timing of the digitization project was important to coincide with increased demand anticipated from the Vanderbilt community during the Sesquicentennial celebrations.  At last, the publication’s archived print and digital content is available through a single interface. Our thanks go to The Hustler staff who supported this project from the start. Noted Editor Rachel Perrot, “I’m grateful for the Special Collections staff’s time and effort in making this project come to life! The Hustler has been a staple of Vanderbilt life for centuries, and this initiative will help preserve the history of alumni, news, and happenings over the years. Having a long-time record of The Hustler is also a beautiful testament to the work and dedication of our reporters dating back to the 19th century.”

Vanderbilt University History Explored through Art, Archives and Artifacts

Three engaging new exhibitions that explore Vanderbilt’s history are on display throughout the summer as part of the university’s sesquicentennial celebrations. The libraries have partnered with faculty and students to curate two exhibitions at Central Library that reveal hidden stories about student life at Vanderbilt. In Special Collections, an exhibition highlighting the silver and gold objects in the university’s collections explores historic contributions of the Vanderbilt community through precious objects. 

Vanderbilt Self-Portrait is a photography project aiming to capture the image and essence of Vanderbilt through its community members’ faces. This spring, the project curators, Allen Zeng (2023) and Richard Zhang (2024), supported by faculty advisor Professor Vesna Pavlović and librarian Yvonne Boyer, photographed students, faculty, and staff, as well as the environments in which they study, work, and relax. The project was awarded the Chancellor’s Office Sesquicentennial Grant with additional funding from the Richard D. and Poppy Pickering Buchanan Library Fellowship program. Students explored historical photographic portraiture and yearbooks in the Special Collections Library to draw connections between historic and contemporary student portraits and better understand what it means to be a part of the Vanderbilt community. The hope is that the present community will be able to use this project to reflect on itself, and for future generations to understand the significance of what it means to be a Commodore. The project will be archived in the libraries for future researchers, accessible in both physical and digital formats. 

Cherokee and Chickasaw Students at Vanderbilt, 1885-1899, an exhibition funded by the Chancellor’s Office Sesquicentennial Grant and curated by Professor Daniel J. Sharfstein, explores the student experience and lifelong contributions of twelve Cherokee and Chickasaw students who attended Vanderbilt during the last years of the 19th century.  One of the project’s goals was to capture the experience of travelling to Nashville from Cherokee and Chickasaw territories. Native American removal policies were within the living memory of their parents and grandparents. Traveling the Trail of Tears in reverse, the students arrived at a new university built on ancestral territory.  Never anonymous and fully engaged in campus life, they distinguished themselves in classrooms and on debating stages and playing fields. Eight became lawyers, shaping local and national tribal affairs from present day Oklahoma to Washington, D.C. Together, Vanderbilt’s first indigenous scholars represent a bridge generation who sustained their nations through an era of forced assimilation. 

In the Special Collections and University Archives All That Glitters: Silver and Gold at Vanderbilt is on display through July. Curated by Molly Dohrmann, the exhibition explores how artisans express significance through embellishment. Vanderbilt’s memorabilia collection holds many commonplace items, from freshman beanies to football trophies, that evoke memories through their familiar connections to life on campus. The items in this exhibit were expressly designed in silver and gold to memorialize events of singular importance. From achievements in science to outstanding contributions to our country, these amazing artifacts reflect the Vanderbilt community’s civic contributions and the capacity of silver and gold to recognize extraordinary accomplishments. The libraries are grateful to the donors and lenders who entrusted Vanderbilt with these historic objects.  

Vanderbilt Television News Archive Recognizes 50th Anniversary of Watergate, Releases 300 Hours of Watergate Hearings Video

May 17th, 2023, marks the 50th anniversary of the start of the Senate Watergate Committee hearings. James Pilkington, administrator of the Vanderbilt Television News Archive and Ron Moulton, television systems technician decided to record the hearings. The Archive continued to record the hearings throughout the summer and into 1974. As the cameras rolled, the nation watched President Nixon’s resignation from office on the evening of August 8th, 1974 on live television. Their foresight and dedication ensured the preservation of this critical historical event. However, due to staffing constraints and the relentless nature of news cycles, a sizable portion of the recorded tapes remained unseen by the public. 

Fifty years later, about half of the recorded tapes were never made public. To honor the 50th anniversary, the TV News Archive’s staff has embarked on a special project to publish the previously unreleased recordings on the archive’s website, The endeavor aims to provide researchers, scholars, and the public with access to a comprehensive collection of these invaluable historical resources. 

The Vanderbilt Television News Archive is committed to preserving cultural memory and is continually expanding its coverage of television news content by investing in technological advancements and infrastructure improvements and enhancing the description and preservation of its collection. The Watergate collection project is an integral part of efforts to provide researchers with a comprehensive understanding of the available resources. By digitizing and ensuring long-term accessibility, the archive safeguards historical events, cultural commentary, and media representations for future generations. It serves as an educational resource, enabling the study of media history, societal attitudes, and the evolution of cultural norms.  

Video Archivist Steve Davis will be leading and facilitating access and processing of the Watergate archival video. He can help students or staff with exclusive access to video content, for the creation of montages, mini documentaries, or clips. Curator Nathan Jones will lead the dive into University Archives materials for the campus perspective on Watergate. Scroll to the bottom of this index to see what is currently available.   


For more information about the Vanderbilt Televisions News Archive, visit