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Events celebrate Nabokov as butterfly scientist

Jose Beduya and Kathy Hovis, Cornell University Library, College of Arts and Sciences


A giant of 20th century literature known for such novels as Lolita and Pale Fire, Russian émigré and former Cornell professor Vladimir Nabokov was also a prodigious lepidopterist who collected and studied butterflies since the age of five.


“It is not improbable that had there been no revolution in Russia, I would have devoted myself entirely to lepidopterology and never written any novels at all,” he said in an interview for the Paris Review in 1967.


On March 14 and 15, a series of free public events at Mann Library will celebrate Nabokov’s lesser-known but impactful contributions to the science of collecting, classifying and understanding the prismatic world of butterflies.


March 14: Talk and Exhibit Opening Reception

When Nabokov published his papers in the 1940s about the evolution and migration of a group of butterfly species known as Polyommatus blues, he was met with skepticism by the scientific community. But, more than six decades later, his theories were confirmed by a study done by a group of butterfly experts using DNA sequencing techniques.


On March 14, 4-5 p.m., in room 160 of Mann Library, the leader of that study, Naomi Pierce, will deliver a lecture titled “The Evolution of Nabokov’s Polyommatus Blues.” A biology professor at Harvard University and the lepidoptera curator in its Museum of Comparative Zoology – a position Nabokov held in the 1940s – Pierce will discuss her research in connection with the writer’s trailblazing work.

Handdrawn image of an imaginary species of butterfly, from the dedication page of Look at the Harlequins
In first printings of his books, Vladimir Nabokov often inscribed dedications to his wife, Vera, and made drawings of butterflies. For the dedication page of Look at the Harlequins, he drew an imaginary species of butterfly, Arlequinus arlequinus. From the Division of Rare and Manuscripts Collection.

Through a collaboration between Cornell University Library and the Cornell University Insect Collection, Pierce’s lecture is part of the opening festivities for the exhibit “From Nabokov’s Net” in Mann Library’s main gallery. The exhibit will run through August, concurrent with a related book exhibit in the lobby titled “No Mere Curios: Finding Nabokov’s Lepidopterist Inspiration in the Rare Books of Entomology.”


“From Nabokov’s Net” showcases facsimiles of the writer’s original drawings, letters, photographs and other artifacts pertaining to butterflies that are kept in Cornell University Library’s Rare and Manuscript Collections. The exhibit also features specimens from the Cornell University Insect Collection, including several collected by Nabokov, who taught Russian literature at Cornell from 1948 to 1959.


The Karner blue butterfly – a novel species first described by the writer in 1943 – is featured prominently in the exhibit as a reminder of the importance of conserving natural habitats.


“When Nabokov went out and looked at these butterflies in an area outside of Albany, they were like blue snowflakes – just lots and lots of these beautiful, little blue butterflies all over,” said Jenny Leijonhufvud, Mann Library exhibit curator and outreach space coordinator, who co-curated the exhibit. “But then very quickly, in the decades after that, primarily due to habitat loss, they suddenly went from being very plentiful to being an endangered species.”

Photography of Naomi Pierce
Naomi Pierce, the Hessel Professor of Biology and curator of lepidoptera in the Museum of Comparative Zoology at Harvard University.
Photography of specimens in original envelopes with dates and annotations.
Several butterfly specimens donated by Vladimir Nabokov to Cornell are kept in their original envelopes that have been dated and annotated by the writer. Photo by Emily Jernigan.

Several of Nabokov’s butterfly specimens are displayed in their original envelopes. “From his own handwritten notes on these little envelopes that contain all these butterflies, we know that these are the butterflies he was collecting while he was writing Lolita,” said Corrie Moreau, co-curator of the exhibit, director of the Cornell University Insect Collection, and professor of entomology and ecology and evolutionary biology in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.


“From Nabokov’s Net” uncovers an important facet of Nabokov, according to Moreau. “He could be quite whimsical in his fictional writings and even when he was writing about his own life, but he was strict and meticulous when it came to his science,” she said.

Vladimir Nabokov taught Russian literature at Cornell, where he had an office in Goldwin Smith Hall. From the Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections, Cornell University Library.

Moreau and Leijonhufvud both said they hope the exhibit will serve as a vehicle for showcasing the insect collection and the library as invaluable sources of knowledge for scholars and enthusiasts.

“Many people think museum collections are these dusty, outdated resources, but that couldn’t be further from the truth,” Moreau said, “We’re constantly using them to answer questions that the people who collected them a hundred years ago couldn’t have imagined.”


March 15: Panel Discussion, Video Screening, and Interactive Art-Making

Honoring Nabokov as a writer and scientist, the College of Arts and Sciences (A&S) is also organizing a series of events on March 15, 1-4 p.m., in Mann Library’s CALS Zone and atrium titled “Nabokov, Naturally,” part of A&S’s Arts Unplugged series and named after and inspired by a fall 2023 class taught by Anindita Banerjee, associate professor of comparative literature. In that class, students in the environment and sustainability major explored the writer’s life and work, and studied how human affairs and natural environments are entangled in Nabokov’s imagination.


“What is both unique and deeply inspiring about Nabokov’s legacy at Cornell are the intertwined ways in which his writings, drawings and photographs speak to scientists, readers and artists alike, bringing startlingly diverse fields and knowledges together as one community,” Banerjee said. “This was true for my students, in particular, who came to study Nabokov from a multitude of disciplines but with a shared passion for our planet with all its forms of life.”


During the event, participants can:

  • Take a close look at Nabokov’s butterfly collection;
  • Watch an eCornell video exploring the many ways that Nabokov’s legacy is alive today, both on campus and throughout the country;
  • Visit the new Mann Library exhibits;
  • Visit with students in the class to discover new information they discovered about Nabokov, the professor;
  • Talk with faculty, students and Nabokov experts from across the country during a panel discussion titled “The Butterfly Effect: Vladimir Nabokov as Scientist and Artist;” 2-3:30 p.m., in room 102 of Mann Library;
  • Stretch their creative wings by contributing to a giant multimedia art piece, or create their own butterfly with the help of entomologist/artist Annika Salzberg using both traditional and nontraditional materials.

“This 21st century engagement with Nabokov’s science-art practice transformed the legendary writer and ‘butterfly man,’ from a historical icon of Cornell to a model for living and learning today and for the future, one that that can care deeply for the world despite personal and communal tragedy and find beauty even amid unthinkable catastrophes,” Banerjee said.


This story also appeared in the Cornell Chronicle.

Spring 2023 Exhibits & Events

Save the date! An opening reception for Mann Library’s spring 2023 exhibits will take place in the Mann Library Gallery on Thursday, March 23, at 4:30 pm (remarks to start at 4:45pm). Come find out about and explore our new installations that celebrate the fiber arts and highlight efforts being made towards sustainable fashion.


Threading the Needle: Weaving Traditions into Contemporary Textile Art

Mann Gallery, 2nd Floor

Using needle and thread, warp and weft, 28 artists mend and explore the meaning and self-expression behind textile creation and envision a future of textiles and “slow fashion” that brings storytelling back into the conversation and back into our own relationship with the textiles in our lives.  


Sustaining Style: Towards Responsible Fashion

Mann Lobby

Booming fast fashion has made stylish clothing more affordable than ever before, but costs to industry workers and the natural environment have been serious. Issues include rising global carbon emissions, microplastic pollution of the world’s oceans, and widespread pesticide use, to name just a few. “Sustaining Style” explores ideas and innovations being investigated here at Cornell University and around the world to realize a more sustainable way of producing and consuming fashion.


Mann Library is pleased to present “Threading the Needle” and “Sustaining Fashion” as part of the Threads of History: Textiles Across Cornell programming occurring on the Cornell campus in 2022/2023. Other exhibits and events taking place at Mann Library as part of this programming include:

If you create it, we’ll elevate it! Elevator art contest at Mann & Olin Libraries

Cornell students, enter our elevator art contest for a chance to showcase your creativity for a chance to win a Cornell Store prize, valued at $100 (with gift receipt)! The winning entries will be displayed on the 1st floor elevator doors in both Mann Library and Olin Library and will be judged both by visual appeal and by how well they fit our theme for 2022: “Connection.” You must be a currently enrolled undergraduate, graduate, or professional school student at Cornell.


Use the submission form (Cornell login required) to provide basic information about you and a paragraph describing how your entry supports the theme. Upload a high-resolution, digital file of your artwork. You must also attest that your work (including all images contained in it) is original and solely made and owned by you. Any inaccurate information could disqualify your submission. Multiple submissions are allowed.


Deadline: April 11, 2022. The winners will be chosen by April 18


Image file requirements and recommendations

  • File name must include your net ID, for example “cd58_TitleOfWork.jpg”.
  • Final size of decal is 88 inches high x 42 inches wide (split down the middle to allow doors to open).
  • Portrait orientation works best.
  • File format must be vector (e.g. PDF, EPS, AI or SVG), or high-resolution raster, larger than 20MB (e.g. JPEG, TIFF, PSD).

If your image is a photograph, please provide the location where your photograph was taken (city, country, and landmark). Consideration will be given, in part, to the location where the photograph was taken and any legal restrictions on the use of images of individuals from that location.

Exhibit Expo @ Mann Library

Mann Library is pleased to announce a spring 2022 Exhibit Expo highlighting our two newest exhibits:


Join us at the Library anytime between 4:30 and 6:30 p.m. on Thursday, March 24 to browse the exhibits, meet the artists and contributors, and enjoy a public reception. Free and open to the Cornell community.

Library Workshops in April

April is the cruelest month? We beg to differ, Mr. Eliot. Join us for any of our workshops and we’ll help you put the muddy, rainy early spring in a whole new light. Plus, Earth Day! Some highlights:

And of course, rain or shine, questions big or small, we’re here for you–just ask a librarian!

Bear and Owl Say: “Get the Most Out of Your Library”

Hey students, what can the Library help you with during a hybrid semester at Cornell? A lot! Just take it from the bear and the owl—who’ve stepped us as stars of our comic strip series, created to fill you in on all the ways you can make the Library work for you.

Our newest installment outlines all the goodies (books, study spaces, printing services, loaner laptops and other equipment) that on-campus students and researchers can find at the Library. We present it side-by-side with our earlier issue—also not to be missed!—featuring tips on getting the most out of the library from a distance—whether with a device (computer, tablet or mobile phone) located here in Ithaca or from a perch anywhere else in the world. One way or the other, virtual or in-person, the Library is here for you when and where you need us. Bear and owl are here to tell you exactly how that works.

More eBooks & Electronic Resources Than Ever Before!

We are really pleased to announce that in response to the urgent challenge of COVID-19 mitigation, Cornell University Library is presently able to offer a significantly extended level of access to online resources. This is happening several ways: 

1. Extended open access to large collections of high-quality digitized literature is being made available for the COVID-19 emergency period via

2. The Library now also has temporary free access to over 85,000 additional e-books available through our existing subscription to ProQuest’s eBook Central library through mid-June. This almost doubles the number of e-books that Cornell faculty, students and staff can access from eBook Central via the Library catalog – and each title has unlimited access. If you’d like to get a sense of some of the titles involved, check out this page of the library catalog.

3. Finally, also extremely helpful have been the publishers who have stepped up to offer free access directly to the materials that they have released in electronic format. Publishers who’ve joined this line up that may be of particular interest to CALS and CHE faculty include:

  • JoVE (Journal of Visualized Experiments) video collection
  • ScienceDirect textbooks
  • World Scientific
  • MIT Press
  • Burleigh Dodds Science ebooks
  • Emerald ebooks (includes business, accounting, social sciences)
  • EBSCO (ebooks now allow unlimited user access)
  • ALEKS (mathematics, accounting, statistics, and chemistry)

Up-to-date information extended access to materials can be found at Published Free” libguide. (Please note, publishers are generally providing extended free access is only for the duration of COVID-19 mitigation period, so access rules are subject to change over the coming months).

For further information about ebooks available through the Cornell University Library—including tips on how to find available ebooks most efficiently — check out our ebook libguide. 

Still can’t find an ebook version of the book you need via a search on the Cornell University Library catalog?  You can recommend a purchase here and we’ll get on it to see if we can’t order it fast for you! 

As always if you end up with questions or need further assistance from a librarian, you can get in touch with us multiple ways, including:

One way or the other, we’ll be there for you when you need us—don’t hesitate to reach out.

Getting Your Course Reserves Right for Remote Teaching

Along with the rest of the Ithaca area, the Cornell campus is doing a great job of the social distancing required to mitigate coronavirus-19 transmission successfully. And with that—as much as we love you all, and as much as the Library doesn’t feel like a library with all this distance between us—Mann also remains closed to physical access for both staff and the public. But rest assured, we’re still 100% here for our patrons. As Cornell faculty start finalizing their preparations for successful rest-of-semester remote teaching, we want to make sure everyone is fully informed of the support and resources available for getting their course materials all set up. 

To begin, when it comes to organizing course reserves for your remote students, the first and probably most important general resource for Cornell faculty to keep in mind is this web page: It’s part of the Cornell University Library’s Support for Remote Teaching Libguide and it gives a comprehensive overview of all the different things to keep in mind as you finalize your course reserves line-up.

And just to pluck out just a few of the key points:

  • Students will be accessing electronic reserves under the “Course Reserves” menu link on their course’s Canvas site.
  • To get started on (or for questions about) making course reserve materials accessible to your remote class, CALS and CHE faculty should contact:
  • Electronic items, including items found in course packets, must meet copyright or have the permission of the copyright holder for this type of use, and the library staff will work with you regarding permissions. One nicely positive thing to keep in mind here: Faculty will likely be relieved to know that Cornell Copyright Information Center is recommending that scanned course material may be made available to students in amounts that may exceed customary fair use limits under normal circumstances. Fair use provides somewhat greater flexibility during these exigent circumstances. For full info on this, see: NEW COPYRIGHT GUIDELINES FOR COVID-19.
  • Faculty (and their students!) will also likely be happy to know that students can gain access to online course materials. The Cornell Store has partnered with VitalSource and leading publishers to launch VitalSource Helps, a program offering free access to ebooks for students. A student can use their email address to freely borrow up to seven (7) now through May 25, 2020. For more detailed instructions about this, please refer back to the CUL course reserves info page noted above.

We think that covers the main scoop on course reserves in the time of COVID-19 for now. We’ll update this page with any changes that come up. And as always, if you run into any questions or problems that you could use some one-on-one help with, please don’t hesitate to contact your Mann Library research support team or email us at We’ll get back to you right away. Stay safe and well, friends!

The Library Is Open Virtually

Over the past week, Cornell University Library staff have been working hard to make sure that Cornell libraries can continue to support teaching, learning and research at Cornell as we transition to virtual environments and remote work. The urgency of COVID-19 mitigation requires that all Cornell libraries stay closed to physical visits by the public until further notice. In compliance with the “New York State on Pause” Executive Order presently in effect, there are currently no library staff on site on the Cornell campus. However, we continue to operate a strong virtual presence to meet the needs of our faculty, staff and students.

We will be more posting detailed updates and guidance about available services and resources on the Mann Library news page over the coming days and weeks, but for now, we offer a broad overview, especially for faculty.

Access to library materials
All Cornell libraries are currently closed for physical visits by patrons and no staff are on site until further notice. Book paging and pick up as well as scanning services are also suspended for now. But Cornell University Library’s online collections are extensive, and although we are, at this time, unable to obtain physical materials or supply scanning services for items held in the Cornell Library, we are still able to supply many chapter or article scans electronically to active Cornell faculty, students and staff. Please first use the library catalog to identify resources that are available to you online. If you find you cannot get electronic access to the resource you need via the catalog, you can ask the library to purchase an ebook via the online purchase request, or you can contact library staff in a variety of ways, including via a Zoom session with a Mann librarian, and we will help you get to what you need. If you wish to connect with your favorite licensed resources directly, please remember to use Passkey to get through the paywalls.

Research support
We have a strong online help presence through the Ask-A-Librarian service, including e-mail reference and chat reference; chat services currently are available 24/7.

Library support for remote teaching
Cornell librarians stand ready to help Cornell faculty teach remotely successfully.  
  • We have created a library guide providing a host of information for faculty preparing to teach remotely. Please check out Library Support for Remote Teaching Guide to check out the info we have there (and if you see anything missing, let us know!)
  • As you identify materials that need to be moved into digital format, please use your usual channels to place requests including email to or contacting your liaison.
  • Guide to working off-campus provides helpful tips for anyone digging into work from an off-campus location.
  • Recommend a purchase can be used to obtain electronic versions of books that you find to be unavailable at Cornell. This may not be possible with all titles, but as Cornell Library has significantly increased its e-book purchasing capacity in response to the current situation, you may well find an e-version of your requested book can in fact be made available.

As everyone is likely keenly aware, the COVID-19 situation remains fluid and quickly changing. To stay as up-to-date as possible on any changes in services and resources that we are able to offer to Cornell faculty, students and staff, please check the Cornell University Library COVID-19 Library Services Update page. And please be in touch and let us know what questions and concerns you have, as well as your suggestions for moving forward:

OER Tools Help Faculty Teach and Students Learn More Affordably

Interested in lowering textbook costs for your students? Or perhaps you’re working on creating a new learning resource to help students get a better grasp of class material? We have some nice news with you in mind!


Faculty at Cornell and across the world are joining the Open Education Resources (OER) movement to save students money, take control over course materials, and improve learning. OER includes e-books, online learning modules and other course content created by teaching faculty across the world that is openly licensed and can be reused by other instructors that are hoping to assign high-quality low-cost or no-cost options to their students.


To start exploring OER repositories and learn more, check out the new OER LibGuide that Cornell librarians have created. Whether you’re interested in adopting OER into your class or in creating a new resource to share with others, the guide offers you helpful sources, tools and tips as well as contact info for getting further assistance.