Discovering Dietrich

Before Holly and Regan gave me my newest project at the SCPC, I had never been to Dietrich before. The first time I walked in (pushing the door open with the strength of Thor) I was with Holly, Regan, and Lauren, and we did a quick tour of the place for my sake. I was overwhelmed with just how many collections were back there. I’m still overwhelmed by how many collections are back there. It’s honestly like walking through history, and my hands were itching to read nearly every little thing that was back there.

As we, like almost every other repository in the country, struggle with space issues, my newest little (okay, a bit bigger than little) project is to go back through our archived collections and condense them on the shelves in order to make room for even more history! Basically it’s every re-organizer’s dream, and I’m loving it. Not to mention that I get to see collections that I might not usually encounter every day.

The problem with Dietrich arose on my first day up there. Alone. At nine in the morning. When the reading room hadn’t opened yet. And no one had turned the lights on.

Dietrich is scary when you’re alone.

Or maybe that’s just me. But Dietrich does feel a little bit like a horror film set when all you can hear is the whirr of the climate control system and the squeaking of the service elevator going up and down. One day, close to Halloween, the place had an incredibly appropriate flickering light, as if I hadn’t already been on edge. And then there was the crippling fear that the compact shelving was going to start collapsing in on me on its own while I was in between stacks. I couldn’t listen to music for a while when I started my time up there for fear that someone wouldn’t know I was there and accidentally crush me as if it were a little historical panini press. Needless to say, I had a lot to overcome.

Once I got into the swing of things, I realized how fantastic Dietrich actually is. Like I said before, there is so much stuff back there! It’s amazing, really, just how much history is stored there, and in every form imaginable, too! Prints, manuscripts, rare books, audios, musical instruments, sculpting kits (I’ve handled that one myself and yes, it is as cool as it sounds!) you name it, Dietrich has it.

It really is wonderful getting to work up there and just to be in the presence of all that history. My little make-shift office is basically my stock pile of different sized boxes and folders and acid-free paper that I had brought there myself  (juggling five boxes, panting for a little bit, saying ‘hi’ to Tom who sees me walk through the doors about twelve times a day, swiping my card like a secret agent, pushing the door open like I am Aragorn bursting into the Great Hall of Meduseld (O, would that Dietrich had double doors!), and trying not to drop the five doc boxes everywhere) but it’s my little make-shift office surrounded by loads and loads of cool things. It makes my job even better than it already was.

You never quite get over the sheer amount of history that constantly surrounds you up there. Setting aside the whimsy and the humor of this particular blog post, working in the SCPC has been a wonderful experience. There is so much to be said about working as a processor and how it is much more than many may think. We really care about the collections here, take the time to sit with them and put them into a nice, neat little order. It’s refreshing to know so many people who just ‘get’ the importance of history and the need for places like Dietrich – the need for a room where history can be organized on shelves but not ever really forgotten about. There are many components that make the SCPC, the Reading Room, and Dietrich just click, and I feel lucky that as a student worker I get to see every part of the process.

Of course, occasionally when someone walks into the aisle that I’m shifting boxes around in while listening to music, as if they’re a reading room ninja, I might yelp in surprise. And sure, I drop an empty shelf here or there, creating the loudest noise to ever grace the Dietrich stacks with its clamorous clatter. And alright, fine, I still wear dresses to work and find myself perched on a stool, still embarrassingly short like the Hobbit that I am, banging on a shelf and cursing its metal existence. But, honestly, Dietrich isn’t as horror-film-esque as I first thought, and my newest project is incredibly fun as well as entirely satisfying (few things are better than seeing three entire units of shelving freed up). Even though I’ve gotten some battle wounds – folders and metal shelves are out to get you, you see – I’m glad that I was given the privilege to discover Dietrich and be the pioneer of the newest renovation project at the Special Collections Processing Center.

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About Nikki Love

A student in the University of Pennsylvania's Post-Baccalaureate Program in Classical studies interested in ancient religion and the intersection of Hellenistic and Egyptian culture, specifically during times of political crisis and conflict. Also hopelessly in love with the works of J.R.R. Tolkien, with superheroes, and with anything having to do with animals.

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