Our Bright Young Librarians series continues today with Cassie Brand, Methodist Library Associate and Special Collections Cataloger and, at the moment, Interim Head of Special Collections, at Drew University in Madison, New Jersey.
I am currently serving as Interim Head of Special Collections, University Archives and Methodist Librarian, but my normal job title is Methodist Library Associate and Special Collections Cataloger, which is still a mouthful. I am in charge of overseeing the reading room, supervising student workers, answering reference requests, and cataloging rare books. I have a lot of variety in my job, which I really like. I get to work with a lot of different collections and a lot of different researchers, which keeps things interesting and makes certain I am always learning.
My position is interesting in that I work for both Drew University Library Special Collections and the United Methodist Archives and History Center. The Methodist Center consists of the Methodist Library of Drew University and the Archive of the General Commission on Archives and History of the Methodist Church. Together we have arguably (and we do argue) the largest collection of global Methodism in the world. The Methodist Collections are amazing and so full of history. We also have amazing religious collections that are non-Methodist, as well as literary collections, science fiction, popular culture, and so much more. And I get to work with all of them.
How did you get started in rare books?
I always knew I was going to work with books in some way, but I had always planned on going into publishing. I had an internship with a local publishing company and especially enjoyed learning about the decisions that were made to create a physical object appropriate for the text it would hold. I spoke about my interest in these decisions with Arnie Sanders, a professor at Goucher College were I did my undergrad. He invited me to join him in the rare book room where he was working on studying a sammelband from 1495. He put the book into my hands and I was hooked. I joined his research team as a volunteer and then later became a student worker for Special Collections and Archives at Goucher. From that point, I couldn't imagine doing anything but becoming a rare book librarian.
Where did you earn your MLS/advanced degree?
I attended Indiana University for my library degree and concentrated in Rare Books and Special Collections. I took every class offered by Joel Silver or taught at the Lilly Library and I was fortunate enough to have a student position at the Lilly. It was amazing to work at the Lilly Library, as the staff is so knowledgeable and the collections are amazing. I am currently working on a PhD in History and Culture, with a concentration in Book History at Drew University.
Favorite rare book / ephemera that you've handled?
This answer changes with my mood, the day, and what I've handled most recently. It's so hard to choose! However, I will never forget this one Bible at the Library of Congress. It was 13th century, written in Hungary, but illustrated in an Italian style. It was so beautiful and unique I feel I could have stared at it for hours.
My favorite book in the collections at Drew is probably the Nuremberg Chronicle. Our copy is beautifully preserved and professionally hand colored. It's such a great example of printing, early illustration techniques, history, and the view of the world in that time period. Because there are so many great aspects to the book, I pull it out for teaching in lots of different classes.
What do you personally collect?
I mainly collect books about books. I have been working to build a good reference library for myself as well as collecting bibliomysteries, which I love to read. I also have a small collection of etiquette books from the late 19th/early 20th century, as etiquette and social rules fascinate me.
What do you like to do outside of work?
Most of my time spent outside of work is devoted to my PhD work, but in rare moments of free time, I like to visit museums, hang out with friends, sew, knit, and of course read!
What excites you about rare book librarianship?
I love introducing people to rare books and book history. Introducing students to rare books for the first time and handing them a book that's over 400 years old is just plain fun. I get to see the misconceptions fall away as they handle an incunable that isn't falling apart or dusty and I get to teach about the materials that were used to make a book that lasts that long.
One of my favorite moments in the reading room was when several undergraduate students from a class were working with rare books for an assignment. They had to describe the book as a physical object and discuss its importance. There were probably 4 or 5 from the class in at one time and they kept calling each other over to share what they were finding. I ended up bouncing around from table to table answering questions and explaining signatures, binding and illustration techniques, and helping to read marginalia.
Thoughts on the future of special collections / rare book librarianship?
People tell me that we should just digitize everything and get rid of the books, or ask if books are going away, or wonder if people still read anymore. The great thing about being a rare book librarian now is that we get to pair the technology from 1450 with the new digital technologies. We have several programs and classes in which the professors are working with special collections to integrate rare books into digital humanities projects, so I've been learning a lot more about the digital tools we can use to both study and showcase our collections. Moving into the future, we will be able to use technology to develop even more ways to learn about and understand our rare books and special collections.
I'm also excited about the ways in which special collections are becoming more open and accessible. Librarians and faculty are inviting more classes in to work with rare books, teaching about them and making them more open and welcoming. At the same time, digital tools are making collections available across the world, which allows them to be used and discovered more widely. The increased openness and ability for people to work with the collections will make for interest research in the future.
Any unusual or interesting collection at your library you'd like to draw our attention to?
We have really amazing collections for such a small school and there are so many things in the Methodist Collections you wouldn't necessarily expect to find in a library. We have African tribal masks, John Wesley's death mask, and a bone from George Whitfield's thumb. We also have every first edition from Lord Byron and Walt Whitman, as well as some great collections of prayer books, hymnbooks, graphic arts, and science fiction. And of course, I have to mention our famous recently rediscovered first edition of the King James Bible.
Any upcoming exhibitions at your library?
I'm really excited about our upcoming exhibit schedule. Like so many other libraries, we will be celebrating the 400-year anniversary of Shakespeare's death with the First Folio on loan from the Folger Shakespeare Library. I am curating a concurrent exhibit Books in the Time of Shakespeare that will look at the materiality of the book and book production in that time period. We also have started planning an exhibit for early 2018 in which we will collaborate with a local artist who works with the language of flowers and pair her work with our collection of botanical books.