Bright Young Librarians: Maureen Maryanski

Our Bright Young Librarians series continues today with Maureen Maryanski, Education and Outreach Librarian at the Lilly Library at Indiana University. 

mem_01.jpgWhat is your role at your institution?

I am the Education and Outreach Librarian at Indiana University's Lilly Library. I work as a member of the four-person Public Services department with Rebecca Baumann, Sarah McElroy Mitchell, and Isabel Planton. My primary responsibility is scheduling and facilitating all class visits and tours, approximately 250-300 a year. As such, we're quite busy year-round, but it's a wonderfully fulfilling job that allows me to interact with students, faculty, and community members, introducing them to the vast and magnificent collections we hold. I teach many of the class sessions, on a wide variety of topics, ranging from medieval manuscripts and early printed books to the history of birth and literary archives. Many classes incorporate active learning activities, and I work with instructors and my colleagues to develop and adapt these exercises for the needs and goals of specific courses.

As part of my duties, I also help plan and conduct a variety of outreach initiatives that include participating in First Thursday activities organized by the IU Arts and Humanities Council, creating pop-up exhibitions, and administering the Lilly Library's Instagram account (follow us at @iulillylibrary!). I'm also involved in the day-to-day running of the Public Services department, including email and in-person reference, supervising and mentoring graduate students, and ensuring the smooth running of the building. I count myself incredibly lucky to work with such grounded, intelligent, supportive, and hilarious colleagues who make every day, no matter what's happening, a joy.

How did you get started in rare books?

It's a rather long story, but here are the pertinent points. I was a modern dance major at Indiana University, and a back injury led me to re-evaluate my life choices. I started working in Interlibrary Loan at the Wells Library (the main library) at IU in 2007 between my junior and senior years. I liked the work, being surrounded by books and helping others access them, and began to think about librarianship. (Side note: I do remember being six-years-old and asking a librarian at my public library how to become a librarian. The library was one of my favorite places in the world, and I was always reading, but my dual loves of books and dancing didn't always take me in the same direction!) One day I walked into the Lilly Library, and immediately it felt like I was home. I didn't know what rare books or special collections meant, but I knew this was the kind of place I wanted to be.

In 2009, I started a dual master's program at IU to earn an MA in History and an MLS with a rare books and manuscripts specialization. Over the course of the next three years, I took every class at the Lilly Library that I could: rare book librarianship, history of the book, reference sources for rare books, descriptive bibliography, rare book cataloging, manuscript processing. I immersed myself in rare books and manuscripts and worked several student positions in Public Services and Conservation, trying to learn everything I could. It was the beginning of my realization that this job is one where you're constantly learning, which I love! I've always been the kind of person who jumps from subject to subject, interested in everything at the same time. One of the hardest decisions I had to make was selecting a focus for my history master's. I didn't want to be limited by geography or time period. Why couldn't I jump from Ancient Rome to British suffragettes? One of the most beautiful parts of this job is that not only is that curiosity and subject-changing encouraged, but it's also necessary to be successful. And for anyone who's curious, dancing and books did come back together for me. My first job out of library school was as a Preservation and Archives Fellow with the Dance Heritage Coalition, which took me to New York, where I eventually spent over four years as a Reference Librarian for Printed Collections at the extraordinary New-York Historical Society.

Favorite rare book / ephemera that you've handled?

Is it fair to say this is one of my least favorite questions? It's only because the answer changes all the time! Every day I learn something new, I handle a book or manuscript I've never seen before, and it's easy to be overwhelmed by the collections we have the honor of working with.

If I had to choose just one, I would have to say the 1792 first edition of Mary Wollstonecraft's A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, owned by Mr. J.K. Lilly. That book is responsible for why I do what I do. That first time I came to the Lilly Library as a senior in college, Vindication was on display, and it took my breath away. It means so much to me and my personal life philosophy. To see this stunning first edition changed the course of my life and led me to the epiphany moment that rare books is where I want to be.

What do you personally collect?

I'm mostly an incidental collector. Recently I've begun intentionally collecting Penguins and Dun Emer/Cuala Press imprints. I only have a few of each so far. I'm also interested in collecting multiple editions of authors and novels I love, such as Olive Schreiner, Vera Brittain, and A Room with a View. I'd love to become a more active collector of feminist history and literature.

What do you like to do outside of work?

I'm ecstatic to be back in my home state of Indiana. Some of my closest friends live in Bloomington, and my family, who I am very close with, live an hour and a half away, so I try to see them as often as I can. In addition to the amazing people in my life, I practice yoga, read anything and everything, watch an unhealthy amount of British television and old films, cross stitch for myself and others, rebel against the patriarchy, and dance spastically in my kitchen, usually while baking a pie.

What excites you about rare book librarianship?

Time travel. Let me explain. Each time we handle a book we're coming into contact with the people who created it, from author to binder. These books have lived remarkable and unique lives, every copy of the same work has its own tale to tell. So, in addition to connecting to its creators, we also connect with every person who has read and/or owned it. People touched these pages, reflected on these words, wrote that word in the margin, chose to read it, buy it, collect it. There is meaning and reason behind every item you come in contact with. These books are evidence that people lived, evidence of their lives, and each book can, and does, represent multiple lives. And while we sit with it, ask it questions, let it speak to us, a tiny window opens to the past - and we can touch it. The same is true for manuscripts. I often tell classes looking at manuscript collections that what's in front of them is what's left of a life after death. I say this to convey the need to respect the materials, but it's also a sobering sentiment that conveys the importance of our libraries. We are responsible for people's lives, for their stories, whether we find them in a book or manuscript. What happens in our reading rooms and classrooms is special, and I want everyone to have the opportunity to experience that specialness. We are but a small part of the very long lives of these remarkable books. If we're lucky we have the opportunity to spend a few decades living with and caring for them. They will outlive us all, and I'm forever in awe of their stories and survival.

Thoughts on the future of special collections / rare book librarianship?

It's an exciting time. Our collections are becoming more diverse and inclusive, as are we as a profession. I think we're heading towards an interesting place where we can respect and honor the traditions and history of our field, while simultaneously being open to change and evolution. Our rare book libraries and librarians are more transparent with researchers and patrons than ever before, especially through social media. We're inviting people into our spaces, inviting them to participate in our community, inviting them to experience what we do on a daily basis.

I'm passionate about what I do, and there's nothing better than meeting and working with people who are just as passionate - and can teach you something you didn't know. What I see more and more, especially as I observe future librarians in IU's MLIS program, is a willingness to share knowledge and enthusiasm, to recognize that not one person will have all the answers, all the information. There will always be someone who knows something you don't and someone who doesn't know something that you do. And that's alright. In rare books librarianship, it's even an advantage. With the breadth and depth of our collections, to expect one person to know all of it is unreasonable. But if everyone works together, if everyone takes a piece of the puzzle, and lovingly, willingly, generously shares what they know with their peers, we all succeed. One of my favorite things about where I am in my career right now is to look around and see members of my library school cohort working with amazing collections, contributing new ideas to the field, collaborating with one another.

Rare books are for everyone, and I'm committed to introducing as many people as I can to the beauty and wonder of collections like those at the Lilly Library. That commitment feeds directly into my passion for teaching with special collections. Break down the barriers, share the wonder that exists in our libraries, and help others develop the skills needed to effectively engage and interact with these books and manuscripts.

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

I'm currently working on a paper with my brilliant colleague Sarah McElroy Mitchell on the collection and life of Ruth Adomeit who collected nearly 8,000 miniature books over six decades. Adomeit bequeathed her collection to the Lilly Library, which now forms the nucleus of our miniature book collection. She was an exceptional woman, a secretary and later schoolteacher living in Cleveland, Ohio who helped change miniature book collecting with her contributions to scholarship, the Miniature Book Society, and the relationships she fostered throughout the rare book world. At the Lilly Library, we have her papers in addition to her miniature books, and it's remarkable to delve into her correspondence with other collectors and dealers, to see how she navigated this world - and changed it.

Any upcoming exhibitions at your library?

Our gorgeous Frankenstein 200: The Birth, Life, and Resurrection of Mary Shelley's Monster exhibition just opened April 19, curated by the fantastic Rebecca Baumann. It will be up through December. We have a Kurt Vonnegut exhibition opening very soon to coincide with the Vonnegut Festival being held in Bloomington, IN May 11-12. I'm also working on a small two-case exhibition for the summer on Errol Flynn, who I've been in love with since I first saw The Adventures of Robin Hood when I was five.

[Photo credit Zach Downey]