Our Bright Young Librarians series continues today with Katie Henningsen, Archivist & Digital Collections Coordinator at the University of Puget Sound in Tacoma, Washington:
I became interested in rare books while completing my M.Phil. in Reformation and Enlightenment Studies at Trinity College Dublin. There, I took a yearlong course on the history of the book, partially taught by Dr. Charles Benson, Keeper of Early Printed Books. These sessions included working with materials from the collection, tours of the Early Printed Books room and facilities, and one exciting, but very cold January day spent in an unheated building working on a 19th century printing press. I began the M.Phil. program believing I wanted to be a history professor, by the end of it I knew I wanted to spend my days working with rare books.
Where did you earn your MLS/advanced degree?
I earned an MSLIS with a concentration in Rare Books and Special Collections at the Palmer School, Long Island University. Attending the Palmer School provided the opportunity to meet and learn from members of the rare book world in New York. I was fortunate to study under Dr. Deirdre Stam, a wonderful mentor and advocate for her students.
What is your role at your institution?
My official title is Archivist and Digital Collections Coordinator. I am responsible for overseeing the day-to-day operations of the Archives & Special Collections as well as chairing the digital projects committee. As the first full time and sole special collections librarian at my institution I do a bit of everything; instruction, reference, outreach, collections management, digitization, acquisitions, and community outreach.
My time is increasingly spent on the public service aspects of my position. As faculty and students are becoming more aware of the Archives & Special Collections, there has been an increase in student researchers and requests from faculty for class sessions. I am thrilled that there is such an interest in using the materials.
Favorite rare book / ephemera that you've handled?
This is such a difficult question. Every time a new item arrives or I discover something in the collections, I get excited, though there are two items that I always come back to.
The first is an item I acquired for the collections shortly after arriving at Puget Sound. It is a tattered pamphlet by Charles Herle, printed in 1642 at the start of the English Civil War. I have taught with it a few times, and each time students comment on its condition, a perfect segue to our discussion of its use and the value of the item as a historic artifact.
The second is a letter in the New York Chamber of Commerce records at Columbia University. While studying for my MSLIS, I worked at Columbia University as a bibliographic assistant on the New York Chamber of Commerce records. The collection sounded quite dry initially, but as we went through the 300+ boxes we discovered a wealth of documents on the early development of New York City and correspondence from Thomas Edison, John D. Rockefeller, Jr., General William T. Sherman, Theodore Roosevelt, and many more. The letter I am referring to was written by A.B. See, an outspoken member of the Chamber, he sent a single sheet of paper to Charles Gwynne, secretary of the Chamber, with one line,
"Can a leopard change its spots, Mr. Gwynne?"
The letter lacks a salutation or signature, which is unusual for See; all of his other letters are written on his company letterhead, addressed and signed. If See intended to send this letter anonymously he made a crucial mistake; he included a return address on the envelope. I didn't have time while processing the collection to look through the correspondence and minutes of the Chamber to discover what prompted See to send this letter, but six years later I am still thinking about it!
Tell us about your Behind the Archives Door series:
The Behind the Archives Door series has been a lot of fun to develop and host. The series features brief presentations by faculty and students who are using materials from the Archives & Special Collections in their teaching and research. The series is informal, after a brief presentation, we tend to have a lively Q&A, followed by the opportunity for the audience to take a closer look at the material under discussion. During the academic year, we meet twice a month. We are just wrapping up our first full year and have seen our attendance grow significantly, particularly among students and members of the community.
What do you personally collect?
In my personal collection I have a few pieces that relate to my M.Phil. research on early modern military academies and I hope to build on that in the future.
What excites you about rare book librarianship?
Everything! I started making a list and attempted to narrow it down, but I enjoy 99.9% of what I do on a daily basis. I love working with the students and having classes come to the Archives & Special Collections. Each time I prepare for a class I discover new and exciting items in the collections. The constant discovery and the opportunity to learn something new each day are wonderful aspects of the job and I hope to always feel a sense of wonder and excitement about what I get to do on a daily basis.
Thoughts on the future of special collections / rare book librarianship?
This is an exciting time for special collections; there are so many opportunities for increased access to our collections, both physical and digital. Facilitating undergraduate research and faculty teaching with the materials has been my priority for the past few years. I see our undergraduate students as future advocates for special collections. Some of these students will go on to become academics, hopefully drawing on their institutions' special collections for their teaching and research. Those that do not stay in academe will have the power to advocate for our collections through local, state, and national legislation. My goal is that their time in the Archives & Special Collections leaves them excited about the resources we hold and the importance of ensuring they are available for future generations.
Any unusual or interesting collection at your library you'd like to draw our attention to?
The Abby Williams Hill papers are a little known and under used resource. Abby was a painter and social activist in the early 20th century. She traveled extensively throughout the United States and completed a number of commissions for the railroads featuring scenes of the national parks. We have her letters, diaries, photographs, and the vast majority of her paintings.
In addition, students working in the Archives & Special Collections regularly add items they come across to our Tumblr.
Any upcoming exhibitions at your library?
We have a very active exhibition schedule!
Currently we have up "Stan!," featuring the collection of Lyle "Stan" Shelmidine (1906-1966), a popular Puget Sound professor of Near and Far East history who travelled extensively, collecting books and artifacts. Four art history students drew on Stan's books, artifacts, and papers to create the exhibition, which they discussed as part of our Behind the Archives Door series.
Each summer we host the annual exhibition of the Puget Sound Book Artists', on display from June 5 to July 31, 2014. In August we will co-host an international juried exhibition of book art focusing on social and political issues, "Book Power Redux," with 23 Sandy Gallery in Portland, Oregon.
In October we will open "Sparking Imaginations," an exhibition on the history of electrical science and electrical power, curated by faculty in the Physics and the Science, Technology, & Society departments. This exhibition will span multiple buildings on campus and feature scientific instruments, our history of science collection, and (hopefully) some live experiments.