Where are they now? Catching up with Library Student Workers Carolyn Duckworth and Jeff Wagner
Carolyn Duckworth (BFA ’76/Arts) and Jeff Wagner (BFA ‘77/Arts) met as undergrads in the 1970s on VCU’s Monroe Park Campus and formed a lifelong friendship. Following in the footsteps of older sister, Susie Duckworth (BFA ‘71/Arts), Carolyn came to VCU from Northern Virginia in the summer of 1973. Her first summer here was spent in an intensive program of Art Foundation before entering the Crafts Department where she focused her studies on weaving. Jeff arrived a year later after beginning his degree at a community college in Northern Virginia and, after some consideration, decided on Art Education as a major.
The two eventually came to work at the James Branch Cabell Library when it was newly completed with the addition of three more floors.
Said Jeff: “My freshman year they were adding the top floor of Cabell. Word got out that you could go up on the roof and see what was going on at the various apartment buildings that were around Shafer Court at the time, as many students hung out on the rooftops in warm weather. When I first started at VCU, it wasn’t uncommon to have neighbors that were families, but in the years that I was there, the area came to be very heavily filled with students”
Carolyn shared that library jobs were highly desirable because they were on campus and not as messy as some other student jobs (such as working in the Hibbs Cafeteria). Plus, you were able to see a little into all sorts of fields of study. “I worked at the periodicals desk, and it was OK for us to read when we weren’t busy. I could read all the art journals and I was also exposed to subjects I might not have otherwise encountered. If a student returned a reserve article that looked interesting, I would read it. And I got to talk with people from many disciplines.”
Carolyn maintained her weaving practice while pursuing a career in writing and editing, which she had begun as an editor of Richmond Arts magazine. She continued with the National Wildlife Federation’s kids’ magazine, Ranger Rick, and occasional freelancing, such as writing about alumni for Shafer Court Connections. Eventually she moved to Missoula, Montana, to earn a graduate degree in environmental studies, focusing on using art and writing in field journals. She traveled the western United States teaching this discipline before accepting a publications job with the National Park Service in Yellowstone, which eventually took her back east to Harpers Ferry. She retired in 2023 and returned to Richmond to be near her lifelong friends from VCU.
Jeff worked in the microfilm area at VCU Libraries and he says it was fairly quiet there much of the time. As an art student, he figured out how to use the microfilm printer to print negatives from his photo class and that gave him access to print (on lower quality paper) that he would not have had otherwise.
In his sophomore year. Jeff met his wife, Sherry. The two were attending an Art Education Retreat at a local campground when they were introduced by Art Miller, a faculty member, and they have been together ever since.
After graduation, Jeff worked for the Steward School before finding his way to Jackson Davis Elementary School in Henrico County where he taught art for 30 years before retiring in 2016. Sherry worked in a federally funded program called “Visual Literacy” in Richmond Public Schools for many years before becoming a reading specialist. Jeff is active as a musician (playing in bands with friends that he made while at VCU) and is reviving his ceramics practice now that he is retired and has more time to focus on that.
Of their time at VCU Libraries, Carolyn says that the exposure to the journals and other materials really added to her education and broadened her understanding of the world. Jeff noted that he feels the exposure to the access to information saved on microfilm compelled him to look at history and how it is recorded and shared in a new way, and that has never left him.
Did you work for VCU Libraries while studying at VCU? Let us know where you are now and we will be sure to invite you to the next Back to the Stacks Library Student Worker Reunion in 2024. Please contact Emma Kerencheva at firstname.lastname@example.org.