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Chris Bolgiano:  Librarian, Writer, Environmentalist

by Barbara Miller

(Editor’s note:  Chris Bolgiano is retiring from Carrier Library on December 8, 2005, after 31 years of service, first as a technical services librarian, and lately as Special Collections Librarian.  I asked Barbara Miller, Director Emerita of Libraries, to write the following profile.)


Chris Bolgiano began her work at Madison College in 1974 as a cataloger in Madison Memorial Library. She started working in September of that year along with myself and Jerry Gill, who started just a couple of months earlier.  After a year, she was appointed the Library’s first Head of Technical Services. Chris served in that capacity until 1980 when she resigned fulltime work to pursue a writing career. Chris’s short term as a library administrator was well received, and she won the respect of the staff by her intelligent and fair leadership. Chris Bolgiano


Soon after she started work at the Library, we all became very aware that Chris possessed unique and admirable abilities and values. Anyone who spent time with her was immediately impressed by her ability to think critically and express herself clearly and convincingly. She held (and still holds) strong views about the world’s environment. Her many journal and newspaper articles as well as her critically acclaimed books are a strong testament to that. Chris is one of a comparatively small corps of people in the Valley who “talk the talk AND walk the walk” when it came to environmental issues here and across the globe.


Her fascination with the large native cat known as the cougar led to her first book. The habitat in which so many living creatures depend for their lives – the forests – became the subject of her second book. She has interviewed many people whose positions on the environment are in line with, as well as contrary to hers – often in the extreme. But she got her stories because she could listen respectfully even when treated rudely or when she witnessed great disregard for places and creatures she loved. Chris has spent solitary time in the mountains of the southwest to know that unique experience, traveled to Germany to learn how that country deals with their carefully cultivated forests, and talked with former president Jimmy Carter about the American chestnut.  She was one of the small number of invited guests on Reddish Knob a few years ago when President Clinton announced his initiative to protect roadless areas in national forests. She interviewed Elizabeth Kubler Ross, the great expert on the issues of death and dying, years ago when access to Dr. Ross was very difficult. A “new friend” is the author Barbara Kingsolver, who recently moved to Virginia. Talking with Chris about her experiences as a writer is time well spent. Chris has participated in the annual UVA Festival of the Book events and early in her writing career she received a summer grant which enabled her to live “on the lawn” on the UVA campus and do research for her project of that time.


Beside her writing, which is and has been her passion for most of her adult life, she has also distinguished herself as an archivist and successful, self-taught special collections librarian. Chris was called back to the Library in the early 1980s by then director Dr. Mary Haban, who wanted to create a special collections department. Chris accepted a part-time position and made the most of the time, space, budget and her ability to learn the skills and organization unique to archival materials. She has dealt with inadequate collections space, water leaks in the ceiling, and small work spaces in which to do the preservation work that is needed. She has had minimal staffing assistance and generally a modest budget with which to purchase special items that often come on the market in local and area auction houses.


Her accomplishments have been significant. She was among the first to recognize the need for applying preservation techniques not only to Special Collections materials but to the collection as a whole. She encouraged a Disaster Plan for the Library and worked tirelessly with Facilities Management staff to obtain a security alarm system, fix roof leaks, and improve humidity levels in Special Collections. She worked with JMU Administration to begin organizing the University archives, although her recommendation to hire a university archivist is yet to be achieved.  She has created a significant website for Special Collections that includes finding aids to manuscripts and other holdings.


Chris has worked with many credit-earning interns from the History department on oral history, manuscripts processing, and archival research, and assisted numerous History and English students in researching archival material for their classes.  As a librarian, she has earned the respect of all who have worked with her in Special Collections for creating a very valuable asset for Carrier Library out of modest resources and staff.



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