Bright Young Librarians: Sarah Minegar

Our Bright Young Librarians series continues today with Sarah Minegar, Special Collections Archivst and Museum Educator at Morristown National Historic Park.


Sarah_Minegar.jpgLet's start by learning about Morristown National Historic Park and its research library. Please introduce us to the institution and its history:

Instituted in 1933 as the first historical park in the Park Service, Morristown NHP marks a watershed moment in Park history and its involvement in the preservation movement of the early twentieth century.  Morristown represents a "coming of age" of sorts for the Park Service--when the agency joined an effort to expand its capacity as a protector of natural and cultural resources of national significance. In the process of acquiring public lands and structures of historical importance, Park Service director Horace Albright stumbled upon a fortuitous preservation project in development in Morristown, New Jersey. Together with Albright, wealthy investment banker Lloyd W. Smith, Morristown Mayor Clyde Potts, and the Washington Association of New Jersey helped secure the sites of George Washington's 1779-1780 winter encampment, establishing the first historical park. Smith's affinity for the site and his involvement in the Washington Association led to the eventual establishment of a museum, library, and archives featuring Smith's personal collections as the foundational research materials. The Lloyd W. Smith Collection, spanning seven centuries and covering thousands of topic areas, is why I am here today.


What is your role at Morristown?

In my official capacity, I serve as special collections archivist and museum educator. The reality of a small institution means those roles encompass a whole host of interesting "duties as assigned." I have had the good fortune of being able to dabble in everything: collections care, cataloging, exhibit prep, minor conservation, internships, packing and rehousing, loans, reference, and historical housekeeping. I am one of three people representing the division of cultural resources and thus a custodian for all things related to research, collections care, and the use of resources.

How did you get started in rare books?

I'd have to say my unofficial journey began while accompanying my parents to many an antique shop as a child. I would rummage through crates of tintypes and thumb stacks of books while I waited. But it wasn't until graduate school that I even set foot in an archives or rare book repository. Coming from a teaching background, I was intrigued by the potential I saw in this "alternative classroom" setting. I got my first real taste when I responded to a posting for a summer position at Morristown NHP. That summer job became a permanent position and I continued refining my role throughout grad school and continue to do so today. Part of that cultivation process has been to supplement my doctorate in history and literature with specific archival and rare book training courses. It has also involved flexing my educator muscles by piloting new collections-based learning opportunities for patrons.

Where did you earn your degrees?

I earned my undergraduate degrees in education from Oakland City University, a small private liberal arts college in my home state of Indiana. For two years, I taught high school English and social studies. I then moved to New Jersey to pursue my graduate degrees in Modern History and Literature. Both my M.Phil. and Ph.D. are from Drew University. 

Favorite rare book / ephemera that you've handled?

This is a tough one, especially since I work with so many manuscripts and printed works, but the book that really puts a sparkle in my eye is our 1896 microminiature of Galileo's letter to Madame Christina di Lorena. This book, measuring 3/4 by 1/2 inch, features 2-point "fly's eye" type, decorative endpapers, hand-sewn gatherings, and a gold embossed cover. Ruth Adomeit once remarked that this edition was the "greatest marvel of book making in the history of miniature books." As a scholar, I am drawn in by the craftsmanship and attention to detail--a truly astonishing example of microscopic type foundry and imposition. As an educator, I love how it commands the attention of the room and almost demands intrigue.

What do you personally collect?


I have a personal fascination with literary utopia and amassed numerous volumes of English language utopian/dystopian works while writing my dissertation. As a graduation gift, my husband bought me a first edition Walden Two and I proudly display it with my other copies. Though this book is rather contemporary and may not be considered "rare" by any sense, I am delighted to own an early imprint of this controversial tome that ruffled so many feathers. 

What do you like to do outside of work?

I spend most of my weekends outdoors with my husband and dog. If we aren't out on a trail somewhere, you can find us roaming the halls of a museum. We keep our eyes peeled for temporary exhibits both in the city and more locally. The recent Picasso Sculpture exhibit at the MOMA was a real treat.

What excites you about working with a special collection?

For me, the connection I feel to history is never stronger than when I'm processing or teaching with collections. I find it very empowering to be entrusted with these treasures and I try to endow a little of that charge to my students and researchers. As a collections manager, I get the satisfaction of knowing the work I do today will assist future scholars in their intellectual pursuits--and maybe even contribute to profound historical realizations. I love that my geeky passions are part of a continuum of learning. 

You're in a unique position working with a special collection located in a National Historic Park. What are your thoughts on working with special collections in atypical settings? How can we bring these "hidden collections" into the light?

One of the biggest obstacles we face is one of awareness. Researchers simply do not expect a National Park that commemorates a six month period of the American Revolution to have a diverse library and archival collection. We get a lot of requests for muster roles and Hessian manuscripts while our Susan B. Anthony, Darwin, Louis XVI, Mark Twain, Louisa May Alcott, Booker T. Washington, and Alessandro Scarlatti wait unnoticed. Conversely, some military historians assume we are a more traditional repository with large holdings of materials falling under consecutive series. While we do house small series of family and business papers, we do not actively accession or manage large record groups. Our most unique collection, the Lloyd W. Smith Collection, was the lifetime pursuit of a personal collector and it is sometimes difficult to explain to patrons that as such there are "gaps" in the topics it covers. To mitigate some of these misunderstandings, we maintain a special collections blog featuring unique artifacts and researcher and intern projects. This has not only helped us clarify our holdings but has also provided a space for us to celebrate and share aspects of the collection that are beyond the scope of our traditional gallery exhibit narrative. The other way we bring recognition to a relatively "hidden" resource is through stewardship programming. We have an active internship program and we work with classroom teachers to develop educator-led, place-based object labs and tours. We have found that investing in students directly has the most return. 


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

I would like to simply advocate for our library and archives. Nestled within an historical park that is part of a large agency, I think our fascinating collection gets overlooked. 

Our collections and education blogs might be the best place to get acquainted with our holdings:

Any upcoming exhibitions?

This year the National Park celebrates its centennial. As part of the centennial #findyourpark mission, we have put together a series of talks, concerts, and exhibits that highlight our collections. This May we will celebrate Alessandro Scarlatti's La Giuditta by inviting The Baroque Orchestra of New Jersey to perform the transcribed 1693 score. This score is one of three known versions of La Giuditta. The two other versions of this oratorio are housed at the National Library of Naples and the University of Cambridge, but the earliest and unabridged version is part of the Morristown NHP collection.