Bright Young Librarians: Katherine Hoarn

Photo credit: Mount Vernon Ladies Association

Katherine Hoarn, special collections librarian at the Washington Library at Mount Vernon:

Our Bright Young Librarians series continues today with Katherine Hoarn, special collections librarian at the Washington Library at Mount Vernon:

What is your role at your institution? (And please introduce our readers to your unique institution and library as well)

I am the Special Collections Librarian at the Fred W. Smith National Library for the Study of George Washington at Mount Vernon (also more briefly known as the Washington Library). I oversee a collection of rare books, manuscripts, and ephemera related to George and Martha Washington, their lives and legacies, and the Washington and Custis descendants. Although there have been professional librarians employed by the Mount Vernon Ladies Association since at least the 1930s, our standalone research facility was opened in 2013. The best thing about working at a smaller research library is all the different roles I get to play - from reference and outreach to collection development, donor relations, and processing and describing collections.

How did you get started in special collections?

I began working in special collections as a graduate assistant at Florida State University. I started library school wanting to be an academic subject librarian, but after my first tour of FSU's Special Collections & Archives, I was hooked. After my assistantship, I was offered a job as the Visiting Rare Books & Instruction Librarian.

Favorite rare book / ephemera that you've handled?

The Washington Library has 105 volumes from Washington's original library. It is always exciting to bring one of those volumes out for a researcher or tour group. I don't know if I could pick a favorite, but Washington's copy of Acts passed at a Congress of the United States of America is really special. It was printed in New York by Francis Childs and John Swaine in 1789 and specially bound for Washington. Not only does the book contain Washington's penciled annotations of the Constitution, it is in immaculate condition and is a fine specimen of early American bookmaking.

What do you personally collect? 

Limited shelf space has kept my personal collection (mostly) under control, but any time I can pick up a lovely old illustrated children's classic or a well-bound edition of Russian literature, I will.

What do you like to do outside of work?

I try to take advantage of all the museums and cultural events that the greater DC area has to offer. I love walking around Old Town Alexandria or taking a drive into the country. When the suburbs end and you can see the Appalachian Mountains in the distance, you know you've driven far enough.

What excites you about special collections librarianship?

It always comes back to connecting people to materials. Whether it's a brief tour of the library or an in-depth research consultation, seeing people get excited about the materials is incredibly rewarding.

Thoughts on the future of special collections librarianship?

The barriers to accessing collections are slowly being dismantled, and this is a very good thing. I predict the future will be a lot less stodgy.

Any unusual or interesting collection at your library you'd like to draw our attention to?

We have a small collection of manuscript and newspaper fragments that were part of a rat's nest. The items date back to the early 1800's when Washington's nephew Bushrod owned Mount Vernon. The nest was found near Washington's bedchamber in the mid-twentieth century during renovations.

Any upcoming exhibitions at your library?

A new round of materials from our collections are getting ready to be installed at Mount Vernon's Museum Center. Our ongoing exhibit is Lives Bound Together: Slavery at George Washington's Mount Vernon. In particular, there are some recently-acquired manuscripts related to the enslaved population in the nineteenth-century that will be on display for the first time. We are fortunate at the Washington Library to get to work with Mount Vernon's top-notch team of curators and museum professionals. Learning more about the procedures and standards of the museum world has really helped me grow as a librarian.