It is a leisurely summer weekend following my freshman year at UCLA, and I’ve got my fencing gear packed in the back of my boyfriend’s 1986 Volvo, and four hours until practice. Just enough time to warrant spending 20-something dollars for a visitor’s ticket to the Huntington Library in San Marino, CA. The grounds are breathtaking and perfectly manicured; the reputation of its art collection peerless and the architecture of the library and museum impressive. But nothing compared to the moment I walked into the library and spotted the vault. The vault door looks like something out of a bank, cracked open just far enough for the curious to get a glimpse inside. I was hooked.
Years later, I am now married to the boyfriend with the 1986 Volvo, though the Volvo is long gone and I now live and work in the DC area. Though I miss being able to visit the Huntington Library, I am thrilled to be working as Graduate Assistant for Instruction and Outreach in Special Collections and University Archives at Hornbake Library, especially because it doesn’t cost me 20-something dollars to come to work every day. There might be a perception that the job of a librarian is boring and repetitive, but I can now confirm that that is not necessarily the case.
My main project has been the Alice 150 Years and Counting exhibit. The exhibit team and I began with a rough plan of how we wanted to organize the exhibit, which evolved into outreach and social media plans and a year-long timeline. Over the course of that year, I helped flesh out the details, working with my fellow co-curator, the collectors, the designer, and a team of library staff and student interns. I learned how to use Photoshop to manipulate digitized images and design captions, signs and all kinds of ephemera. I edited caption, panel, and other text countless times. I compiled facts and quotes and scheduled them on social media, wrote blog posts, designed lobby screens, wrote a press release, and more. I used the phrase “fall down the rabbit hole” so many times, I thought I may have fallen down some kind of rabbit hole myself.
Was I relieved when the exhibit finally opened in October? A little. I felt like I understood a little bit better what it’s like to see your baby all grown up and going to college. But there is still work to be done with Alice. I’m working on getting the online exhibit up now, and soon a catalog will follow.
I also get to flex my teaching muscles as part of my GA-ship. I’ve worked closely with our Instruction and Outreach Coordinator to develop lesson plans and pull material for undergraduate classes who come to Hornbake to learn about what we do and how they can use our resources for their research. One of my favorite classes was a Shakespeare course that was interested in comparing early editions of Shakespeare. Watching the class get excited about early 17th and 18th century Shakespearean literature got my heart all a-flutter.
Every day of my job is different and I love it. I feel like a dragon sitting on a treasure trove of books, papers and other archival odds and ends. But in my story, I welcome the hero into my treasure-trove, where he finds all the other heroes of past journeys reading animatedly. That is what I believe is the responsibility of a Special Collections. Not only to allow people to come share in the treasure, but to reach out and show them that what we have and what we can do is priceless beyond measure.