Unfriended: UVA's Corks & Curls yearbook out of business
After a nearly 120-year run, there’ll be no University of Virginia yearbook for sale this year, say UVA officials.
“The Corks & Curls yearbook is traditionally published by UVA students, but the group is currently not active,” says Karen Shaffer, UVA’s director of student services. “While they may choose to regroup and publish a yearbook in the future, there is no plan to do so in the 2009-10 academic year.”
The news came as a shocker for historian Coy Barefoot, who says he drew heavily on archival copies of Corks & Curls in compiling his own book, The Corner: A History of Student Life at the University of Virginia.
"It's a prime historical resource," says Barefoot, who is teaching a local history course this semester. "This is just awful from a historian's standpoint."
However, according to Cavalier Daily editor Andrew T. Baker, the yearbook hasn't been making much of an impression on current UVA students.
"I haven't seen much publicity or presence from the yearbook around Grounds in the four years I've been here," he says.
“I've tried testing the waters with some of my friends, casually mentioning that the yearbook isn't going to be published,” says UVA student and Hook music writer Stephanie Garcia, “and no one seemed to really care.”
An even bigger shocker, according to Aaron Josephson, who serves on the executive committee of the Class of 2009, was that the historic treasure wasn't published for the Class of 2009 either, something UVA officials like Shaffer appear not to have realized. Indeed, recent staffer Michelle Burch says that the decision to suspend publication of Cork & Curls was made after publishing the 2008 edition, the 119th issue of Corks & Curls.
“It was a difficult decision, and one that the staff regretted because of the tradition,” says Burch, who blames declining sales, networking websites, and financial insolvency for the yearbook’s demise.
“We had great interest in keeping the book alive, but overall student interest and the financial reality of publishing it in its traditional form make that very difficult,” says Burch.
So, might Corks & Curls be revived?
“I don't know,” says Burch. “It would take a completely different approach to bring it back to life in this digital world.”
They seemed to care about the yearbook back in 1888, when the first issue was published, and the name–- originally chosen at random–- was ascribed an arcane meaning via a contest won by med student Leander Fogg, who reasoned that “corks” were students who didn’t know what to say when called upon in class (like corks silently plugging a bottle), whereas “curls” were students who knew all the answers, as one who “curleth his tail for delight.” A few years later, the student publishers–- all men in a pre-coeducation UVA–- described their book:
"A monument raised by the students, to be a memorial to them of each other, of the University, and of all things common to them and to the University."
In effect, it was a 19th Century version of social media, something that allowed students to preserve a shared experience. Ironically, the 21st Century’s version, Facebook, appears to have been a contributing factor in the demise of the storied yearbook.
“A sign of the times,” says UVA spokesperson Carol Wood, who was unaware that the yearbook wasn't published last year either. “Apparently, there was little interest on the part of students to want a yearbook, as more and more students were deciding not to purchase them. I have heard this happening elsewhere.''
Indeed, in the last few years, college annuals across America have seen shrinking sales as free media blossom, but UVA appears to be the largest and most prominent university losing its yearbook. And some UVA ex-staffers lay more of the blame on finances, not Facebook.
“There were financial issues due to decreased sales and staff as well as a couple years of poor management,” says one recent editor, who spoke on condition of anonymity. "It was essentially run as a small business staffed by students. Obviously, when a business doesn't have enough people or sales to support operations, it closes.”
“The book has always been a hard sell because of the sheer size,” explains Anthony Whitten, who was Corks & Curls' business manager from 2000 to 2003. "It was a 400-plus page book that covered close to 20,000 people. Most people didn't think they would be featured."
He says it cost $100,000 to $120,000 to create about 1,600 copies. The last edition sold for $85 a copy.
"The book was relatively affordable," says Whitten. "It cost less than most books students purchased in high school.”
To Whitten, who says he was “completely devastated" about the news about the oldest publication on grounds, it was the 2003 shift from spring to fall publication that doomed Corks & Curls.
“It's hard to sell a book to seniors," he explains, "after they have graduated and are no longer at the University."
With pages dedicated to everything from wild fraternities to bookish honorary societies, from dormitory life to athletic teams, Corks & Curls covered extensive territory.
“I remember that we had a difficult time selling books and getting students to get their photos taken when I was on staff,” says 2005 UVA alum and four-year staffer Whitney Spivey, who curated a 2004 exhibition in the Rotunda, 116 Years of Corks & Curls.
“I understand there's something to be said for the immediacy of capturing college memories via the Internet,” says Spivey, “but in my mind, digital media will never be able to compete with a 400-plus page book that completely and accurately documents every aspect of life at the University.”
Spivey says she took great pride in creating a piece of UVA history that her classmates would carry with them for the rest of their lives. "Each year has its own personality," she says, "from the material on the cover to the issues discussed inside. I think it's a shame that this tradition will end. The books are a valuable gauge of the University's views and values throughout history.”
Of course, Corks & Curls hasn’t completely disappeared, thanks to the staff’s Facebook page.