Our Bright Young Librarians series continues today with Beth Jarret, head of acquisitions at the American Antiquarian Society.
I'm the newly minted Head of Acquisitions at the American Antiquarian Society. I work with the five departmental curators (Books, Children's Literature, Graphic Arts, Manuscripts, & Newspapers/Periodicals) to bring materials into the building and make them available for use. The acquisitions office is the first stop for any purchase or donation of collection material that comes to the Society. Once materials have received curatorial clearance to be added to the collection, I assign funds to them and the acquisitions team makes sure each item has been paid for, or acknowledged if it is a gift, and has a brief catalog record and accession markings before it leaves the acquisition work room.
How did you get started in special collections?
I have always been a library enthusiast. As an undergraduate, I applied to the university library through work-study and I was assigned a position in the archives. This was my first real inner-workings introduction, though my assignments were primarily assisting and supervising visitors, and digitizing. Initially, I thought I wanted to pursue a career in museums or possibly archaeology. But an internship at N-YHS the summer before my senior year, where all my bosses held library degrees, and a stint at archaeological field school (just to rule it out) set me on my current path.
Where did you earn your MLS/advanced degree?
I earned an M.L.I.S. from the University of Rhode Island in 2011 and completed an MS in Non-profit management from Worcester State University in 2018.
Favorite rare book / ephemera that you've handled?
I always love the etiquette books because I am fascinated by behavior and what was considered to be appropriate and/or proper for a lady. One of the most pragmatic of these books also happens to be my favorite: True Politeness. A Hand-book of Etiquette for Ladies. By an American Lady. New York: Levitt & Allen, 1853. It somehow feels a little less polite and, perhaps a little more American, than some of the others with directives such as "An introduction at a ball for the purpose of dancing does not compel you to recognise the person in the street or in any public place; and except under very peculiar circumstances such intimacies had better cease with the ball." (p. 6). "Never give away a present which you have received from another; or at least, so arrange it, that it may never be known." (p. 62) And my all-time favorite "A lady ought not to present herself alone in a library or museum, unless she goes there to study or work as an artist" (p. 64)
What do you personally collect?
I keep it close to home and collect library rules and regulations, especially from around the turn of the 20th century when the public library was really expanding across the country (largely fueled and funded by Andrew Carnegie).
I also collect copies of Harry Potter and the Philosopher's/Sorcerer's stone in various languages and bindings.
What do you like to do outside of work?
Outside is the operative word. I love to adventure and explore outdoors and have been playing Ultimate Frisbee with varying degrees of competitiveness for over 12 years. My indoor activities include cooking, baking and knitting. I am constantly tinkering with recipes or dreaming up new patterns and new ways to fashion things out of yarn. I once attempted to follow some of the historic knitting patterns we have in the collection, with mixed results. Past is Present
What excites you about special collections librarianship?
At a place like AAS, every day is interesting and unexpected. It's hard not to spend too much time reading materials when I should be cataloging them. When something amusing, exciting or interesting comes across my desk, I can't help but announce it to whoever else is in the room. This is something we all do. It is reflective of the culture of sharing that is prevalent at AAS and that I am quite fond of. As items move through the acquisitions process they are discussed and speculated about. With surprising frequency, that discussion makes its way out to the reading room, connecting researchers with materials before they are even fully processed. It sounds romantic and romanticized, but that is often how it happens. There is this palpable sentiment from entire library staff (from catalogers, to curators, to reader services) that when we have knowledge or an idea that might help a reader, we want to share it with them. I think it is that way in a lot of libraries but it can be especially important in special collections, where things may not be fully, or individually, cataloged and the familiarity and expertise of staff are incredibly valuable.
Thoughts on the future of special collections librarianship?
I think a lot of institutions, AAS included, are reconsidering how they interact with the public and the local community. Special collections can sometimes feel closed-off or mysterious, even to their nearest geographical neighbors. "Special" can suggest it is not only the materials, but also the researcher or visitor who needs to be special in order to use the collections, or that things are "off-limits" in some way. I am of the opinion that special collections shouldn't require special permission. At AAS we are nearing the end of a construction project that includes a multipurpose space we are calling a Learning Lab that will allow us to bring in school groups and better enable us to share our resources with a wide variety of people in a controlled environment. The building we occupy contains our shared history, culture and treasures. We have a vast array of materials and the more people who make use of them the better. I know that it is not always practical from a conservation perspective and digitization can be a great asset but I hope that, for as long as possible, all sorts of people of all different ages, backgrounds and experiences get a chance to work with the primary sources housed here at AAS.
Any unusual or interesting collection at your library you'd like to draw our attention to?
We have over 15,000 almanacs printed from 1656 through 1876 in the United States, Caribbean, Canada, and Mexico. This comprises about three-quarters of all the almanacs published in North America during this period. Almanacs may not sound very exciting, but they contain a wealth of information and the comic ones can be quite amusing. Besides the expected calendar, these almanacs often included poetry, astrological and agricultural details as well as jokes, which reveals quite a bit about the culture at the time. Many were also filled with handwritten notations detailing daily life; making them fantastic resources.
What may be surprising to many people, given that AAS is an institution in Worcester, Massachusetts, is that we have one of the most robust collections of Hawaiiana outside of the Hawaiian Islands. The collection includes some of the earliest engravings printed in Hawaii, newspapers and over 200 books and pamphlets written in Hawaiian and other Polynesian languages. We also have approximately 300 titles printed on the islands themselves between 1822 and 1876, including a copy of the earliest printed pamphlet, The Alphabet, printed in O'ahu on the Mission Press in January 1822.
Lastly, the American Antiquarian Society is best known as a resource for the printed word, but we also have an extensive manuscript collection. This collection's strength is in its early New England family papers, business records, diaries, account books and especially book trades.
Any upcoming exhibitions at your library?
AAS is in the midst of a construction project which will yield a brand new conservation studio and a multi-media Learning Lab, but unfortunately means that, at present, the environment is not particularly conducive to hosting exhibitions. However, our Curator of Graphic Arts and Director of the Center for Historic American Visual Culture have been hard at work collaborating on a Paul Revere exhibition that will open at the New-York Historical Society and then travel to the Worcester Art Museum, the Concord Museum and the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art. Beyond Midnight: Paul Revere draws on the American Antiquarian Society's unparalleled collection and will exhibit rare prints alongside elegant silver tea services and everyday objects such as thimbles and period newspapers to reveal new facets behind the versatile artisan best known for his "midnight ride."
Image credit: American Antiquarian Society