Bright Young Librarians: Jay Gaidmore

Our Bright Young Librarians series continues today with Jay Gaidmore, Marian and Alan McLeod Director of the Special Collections Research Center at The College of William & Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia:

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How did you get started in rare books?

I started out in my career as an archivist and manuscripts curator, but my interest in rare books was kindled while working as the University Archivist in the John Hay Library at Brown University, with its amazing collection of incunabula, a near perfect set of Audubon’s Birds of America, and many other significant rare books. One of the reasons I was so interested and excited to come to Swem Library was to be more involved with rare books and the full spectrum of special collections. 

Where did you earn your MLS/advanced degree?

I earned my library science degree from the University of South Carolina in Columbia and a master’s degree in history at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Virginia.  

What is your role at your institution?

I am the Director of Special Collections, which includes three major collections, Rare Books, Manuscripts, and the University Archives. My primary responsibilities are collection development, outreach, fundraising and stewardship, and administration.  

Favorite rare book / ephemera that you’ve handled?  

I have two favorites. Swem Library has a first edition of the Book of Mormon, which is regularly visited by missionaries in the area, and a first edition of Isaac Newton’s Principia, which is annotated in Latin by an as yet unidentified person. 

What do you personally collect?  

I collect through my work. It is much cheaper personally that way. 

What do you like to do outside of work?

I enjoy spending time with my family, hiking, reading, and binge watching television shows on Netflix.  

What excites you about rare book librarianship?

Preserving rare and unique materials, and sharing them with others, either through research, bibliographic instruction sessions, tours, or open houses. There is nothing more satisfying than seeing others getting enjoyment from the treasures we are acquiring, preserving, and making accessible.  

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

The future of special collection is brighter than ever. Not only do special collections preserve and make accessible the primary sources for research, but with every library, with the right resources of course, having the ability to get access the same e-books, e-journals, and databases, it is the rare and unique materials that differentiate one library from the next. Administrators are realizing this and are devoting much needed resources to these areas of the library. 

Also, with more and more information being available digitally, special collections librarians have an important role to play in promoting the book as an artifact and that books are so much more than the information they contain.  

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

We have the second largest collection of books on dogs in the country, including scholarly works in several languages dating back to 1537, as well as children’s literature, breed guides, and novels. We also have 700 fore-edge painting books that were donated to Swem Library by collector Ralph H. Wark. 

Any upcoming exhibitions at your library?

In February, we are having an exhibit of materials from our Hip-Hop Collection, established in 2013 to document the rich history of Virginia’s hip hop community and including artifacts, posters, ephemera, LP’s, bootleg tapes, and oral histories. The exhibit will include a listening station containing sound bites from the oral histories, and a DJ will be spinning records at the exhibit opening. 

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