What I am Thankful For from My RBC Experience

As I move into the spring semester of my second and final (at least that’s the plan!) post-baccalaureate year here at Penn, and thus my final months at the Van Pelt Library, I cannot help but look towards the future and consider the gifts rare book cataloging has given me.  From a young age I have believed that no endeavor to which I have devoted considerable time and effort should become an isolated, hermetically sealed episode of my life with no influence or bearing on what I do next.  Rather, each great experience is a perennial gift.  If the lessons imparted are learned from, then each job, each volunteer opportunity, and each adventure builds on top of all the preceding ones in a continuous cycle of improvement and enrichment.  All that is required is a willingness to reflect upon the experience and receive and understand the blessings it has to offer.

At the moment, I am in the midst of applying to six M.A. programs in classical archaeology at schools across the U.S. and Canada.  My primary plan for the future is to become a classical archaeologist, teaching at the college level and conducting field research in the summers.  I have no idea whether this will pan out or not, given the tight academic job market and the impending burst of the higher education bubble.  However, I truly love the field, and as such contributing to it remains my Plan A.  My primary interest is the layout of ancient cities, but I intend for that to be expanded and informed by two years of study in a Master’s program and five more in pursuit of a PhD, after which I am very much on God’s good humor when it comes to the teaching market.  As such, in keeping with my father’s advice to always have multiple fallbacks, if classical archaeology doesn’t work out I am considering reskilling in architecture, electrical work or carpentry, or achieving certification to teach Latin in public schools (a market for which there is, surprisingly, a great demand).  Another avenue – oh so obvious, given the blog I’m writing this for, eh? – is library science.  Whatever I settle on, I am utterly thankful for these three blessings of my rare book cataloging experience.

(1) Continual exposure to modern languages.
In classical archaeology working knowledge of a modern language is a requirements.  Each of my prospective M.A. programs mandates that students show reading proficiency in either German, French, or Italian.  When I came to Penn a year ago I only had one year of college level German under my belt.  My choice to focus exclusively on Greek and Latin in the post-bacc program means that I will embark upon my M.A. with the classical languages honed to a fine edge, but behind in the modern languages.  As such, I am thankful for my rare book cataloging job keeping me in contact with French, Italian, and German especially via the broadsides and volumes of printed decrees.  While they are written in legalese rather than the scholarly lingo I must become accustomed to, nonetheless they have kept up my acquaintance with the languages, expanded my vocabulary, and exercised my muscles in keeping track of subordinate clauses (seriously, single sentences on these things will last for most of a page, just nesting and nesting and nesting clauses and abusing semicolons with a frightful abandon!).  Thanks to rare book cataloging I will enter an M.A. program having retained familiarity with the languages and as such be more prepared to take up the study of them again.

(2) Broad scope of materials.
If an archaeologist remains ultra-specialized in one area for too long, he or she calcifies.  While maintaining and developing a web of interests, I aim to avoid the concretization of my brain through constant, refreshing interdisciplinary engagement with classicists, ancient historians, and representatives of the natural sciences such as geologists, paleo-botanists, and others whose work elucidates the different dimensions of a dig site.  I believe this broad engagement enriches my work.  Similarly, while I have tended to specialize in Germanic documents  in rare book cataloging, the job has still kept by horizons wide with a mix of pan-European works.

While I enjoy the interdisciplinary nature of my cataloging work, how will it help me with my future endeavors?  I find it to be a timely reminder that no matter what endeavor I undertake, I can always augment it with a broad consideration of related topics.  Supposing I went into architecture, what sort of architect would I be if I did not draw inspiration from many periods, cultures, and styles?  What sort of carpenter or electrician if I didn’t liaise with other members of the skilled trades?  What sort of library scientist if I didn’t familiarize myself with manuscripts, cataloging, book preservation, etc.?  I’m thankful my rare book cataloging job has included this multidisciplinary component and reinforced it through the professional development week and the combination of rare book cataloging and manuscripts in the special collections center.

(3) Positive role models.  
We touch many people’s lives in the course of our own, and if our hearts are in the right place hope we are doing so positively.  In rare book cataloging such individuals have been plentiful.  Alison trained me in the day-to-day usage of OCLC, and Adriana did the same in the operation of Voyager and the creation of constant data.  Adriana has mentored me on several French, Italian, and Dutch projects and been wonderfully helpful in answering my questions.  Liz has been my guide for the German materials and has been tireless in answering every single little question I have about formatting.  While working on the parchment analysis project, Donna, Amey, Marissa, and Benji were helpful, informative, and always interested to talk about their own work and show me a nifty manuscript.  Regan has been the best supervisor I have yet had, and I thought it would be hard for anyone to beat my supervisor from my student services job at Creighton University.  Whenever I have asked for extra work to fill my hours, she has provided it.  She has been honest, firm, and understanding.  All of these people have given me lasting examples of how to be a good coworker and supervisor, and will guide and inspire me no matter what field I end up in.

I suppose the moral of the story is that no matter what your field, each set of experiences and people in one’s life offer a bevy of lessons and blessings.  All that we require to appreciate and be thankful for them is a time to sit back and reflect.  Once we have fully realized these blessings and lessons, we can use them to improve both our own futures, and those of the people around us.

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