Unfriended: UVA's Corks & Curls yearbook out of business

cover-corksandcurls-editions-a0904No more Corks & Curls? From right to left, the 1928, 1930, 2007, 1908, and 1913 editions of the yearbook.

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.


How can you write " I love you " on the page of your yearbook, as a memento of four years at the University, if a book no longer exists. Facebook will never replace the wonderful messages on the pages of my college yearbook --there are some things that computers will never replicate.

I graduated from UVA in 1985 and only bought one yearbook the entire time I was there. It just wasn't that meaningful when there were so many people in the book you didn't know at all.

this can be a money making venture if marketed and sold properly. what it cant do is try to do business like it has always done. if i was the school, i want put the brand out to bid and see if a few entrepeneurs (sp) want to take it and run with it.

Corks and Curls has been obsolete for a while, and I don't think it is Facebook's fault. A year book just doesn't work at a school as big as UVA has become. Still its sad to see a 120 year old tradition go away.

Honestly, it is a tragedy to see so many people not appreciate yearbooks for what they really are. A way to capture your memories.

The problem is, the yearbook you are used to is bulky and limiting. You don't want to have to flip through pages trying to find pictures that involve you and your friends, it would be much easier to just sit down and find hundreds of pictures that you will actually care about.

A yearbook is a visual copy of your memories, so you can gaze into the past. Even so, there is always a price that you are not willing to exceed, and 85 dollars is probably far past that. Why not 10 or 20 dollars, and while we are at it, why not allow the school to profit off of just that small amount of money per person.

Let's add some video clips to capture the animated memories, like sports games or drama productions, or maybe just a video commentary that you would like to have for all time. And also, nobody wants to sit in a dark room and look at pictures in silence. How about we add in some custom soundtracks, whether it be songs released by big name artists, or a personal composition, either way, lets get some background music involved.

This is all possible in the digital age, and for a substantially lower price than the printed yearbooks. The printed copies were costing the school over $100,000.00, but this is just $499.00 for a 1 year license. Then limitless amounts of projects can be created. Clubs and extracurricular activities can even make their own if they want.

This seems to be the way many schools are leaning towards these days. Look at the Ivy League University Yale, even they are doing a digital yearbook now.

And as for the written portion of signing each others yearbooks, a lot of schools are dropping over to an establishment like Kinko's and requesting a DVD case sized booklet, with several pages, leaving enough room for all of your friends to sign their thoughts for years to come.

Keep your memories alive and vibrant, don't let them fade out of sight and out of mind. I happen to have the solution to all of this.

The answer is www.yearbookalive.com

Take a look at it. The software is free for anyone to download and play around with. See how you like it, think of the possibilities and opportunities to be had. You can't go wrong.

Thank you for listening. My name is Corey, and I am from YearBook Alive, give me a call and tell me what you think of the software. Thanks. Have yourselves a wonderful day.

Why heck! I went to a very small high school .. only 57 people in my graduating class .. and we didn't have a year book. Can't say that I missed out on anything by not having one. The college I graduated from had them, but sold very few. My children bought some in high school, and all they do is sit on the shelf and collect dust anyway.