This is my brief account of how I (a book lover) turned a childhood passion into a lifelong career. It all began in 1972 when I was twelve years old; I was now eligible to apply for my first library card from the public library and could check out up to ten books at one time! Boy, I thought I’d entered the “big time.” The struggle to carry those ten books out of the library made me so happy and proud. Back then, it meant something to be seen with books, and I wanted everyone walking down the sidewalk to know that I had earned the privilege to carry them. Just a few years later in high school, my mother suggested I take a summer job at either the bank, social security office, or the library. Being a bibliophile and all, of course, I chose the library. However, I had my sights specifically set on the Enoch Pratt Library on Cathedral Street. Upon arriving at the guidance counselor’s office for orientation, I eagerly anticipated my assignment. The counselor handed each of us a slip of paper. I quickly unfolded mine with bated breath only to be shocked at the black-ink words in bold type: “THE GEORGE PEABODY LIBRARY.” In puzzlement, I looked at the counselor and asked, “What is the George Peabody Library?” The counselor peered over her glasses and gave me an “all sales final” look. I sat quietly until we finished. I left orientation dragging my feet down the sidewalk in utter disappointment. Yet, finally the day arrived when I was due to report to work, and when I got there…Wow!
It was the most beautiful library I’d ever seen. Drudgery suddenly turned into passion, and seven years later on July 2, 1979, I started working at the George Peabody Library as a “Book Shelver” for the summer. (Today, we call that a Library Page.) Again, it was a summer job, and though my tasks were uncomplicated, I learned a lot about the curation of rare books. For example, oversized books had to be shelved spine-down to preserve the binding. I may not recall the titles of all of the books I borrowed, but I do remember the extraordinary books within the Peabody’s Rare Book Room.
De morali lepra — The most interesting book at that time in the collection was printed in the year 1470 — the earliest book in the Peabody’s rare books collection. However, as I was writing this blog, I couldn’t remember the title of the book. So, I consulted Neil Weijer, Ph.D. and Postdoctoral Curatorial Fellow in Premodern and Early Modern Studies at the Peabody Library. He’s currently researching books that were printed before 1500. According to Neil, “This book is a 1470 printing of Johannes Nider’s De morali lepra (On moral leprosy). It’s [printed] in Latin, was acquired in the 1890s, and I’m pretty sure it’s still the earliest printed book in the collection. Johannes Nider (c.1380-1430) was a Dominican friar, preacher, and author of one of the earliest texts to examine witchcraft and demonic possession: Formicarius (The anthill), which we also have in a 1480 ed. De morali lepra also takes an interest in magic and sorcery, but like many of Nider’s works, it would likely have been used as an aid to preachers, as well as confessors across a range of moral topics. This copy comes from the press of Ulrich Zel, Cologne’s first printer. Zel’s press operated in part by producing textbooks for the University of Cologne, where Nider had finished his studies a half century before.”
I performed my job so well that my supervisor encouraged me to apply for a full- time Library Assistant position at JHU’s Milton S. Eisenhower Library on Homewood Campus. This was a dream come true! Any opportunity to work on the main campus was considered a privilege. So, I applied and, to my heart’s content, was hired! I soon found myself at MSEL processing Interlibrary Loan requests; this entailed finding articles, books, and other library materials not owned by JHU. I liked processing Interlibrary Loans more than any other task, because it was exciting to see books come in from around the world. The subject titles were so intriguing that I wanted to stop what I was doing, take the book outside, find a bench, and read for hours.
Today, after thirty-seven years of working in a library, I still enjoy my experience at Hopkins as much as I did that first day I walked into the Peabody Library, and since then, I have become a published author. I have written three books, and am working on my fourth. I still work in the Interlibrary Loan department, a great department to work in where we manage special requests for books that are, at times, difficult to locate. I am happy I made my career choice as a Library Assistant: it’s the personal touch, customer service experiences, and face-to-face interactions that stoke my passion for the library.
Thanks to Dr. Neil Weijer for his contribution to this blog!