Working with special, rare and archival materials

Within librarianship, there is a unique group of individuals that aspire to work with historical and unique materials. It truly is a fascinating field of work that combines a variety of facets, from material studies and history to language and culture.

This week I spoke with John, Liz, Bethany, Hannah and Caroline, who all share my passion for these unique and historical materials. As SLIS students that all currently work in rare book, archive, or special collection institutions, we wanted to use this episode as a chance to dialog on the significance and challenges inherent in collecting and preserving these materials and why we are interested in a career in this field. We also give some insight into some of the special projects we work on at our jobs: processing a cookbook collection, cataloguing miniature books, crowdsourcing metadata for artist books and processing the newly donated Tom Brokaw papers.

“Working in special collections gives you a taste of what’s out there. You have this ability to see behind closed doors, to see what exists, that I would have never thought of before.” -John Fifield, 2017

It’s clear that the dynamic content, the individuality of special collections and the ability to constantly learn are all reasons why at least this group of students have chosen to pursue a future in this sub-field of library and information science. We also take some time to discuss some of our favorite items we’ve encountered and how our experiences have played a valuable role in guiding us to a future career. As a bonus, John gives us insight into his recent experience interviewing for a rare book seller job.

“[Special collections] is such a big collection, a varied collection, no matter what you’re interested in we can find something for you.” -Elizabeth Riordan, 2017

If you’ve never taken the time to visit an archival, special collections or rare book institution before, I highly recommend you do! You never know what you could find.

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