Monthly Archives: February 2013

Something Fun – MRL May 1961


The Quintessential Librarian!

While most people today do not get to see the room pictured in the above image, staff and student workers are well-acquainted with it.

The Missionary Research Library, created in 1914, moved to Union Theological Seminary in 1929 after financial difficulties became too much to bear. MRL rented space from Union in Brown Tower, and still maintained its own library. These financial difficulties continued until 1967 when it was fully integrated into the Union Seminary Library. Burke Library became part of the Columbia Library system in 2004.

The image above dates from May 1961 and was found as part of the large set of unprocessed material included in the Luce Foundation project. MRL maintained the material, allowing researchers in to the reading room which was presided over by a staff member, shown here. This MRL reading room was complete with a spiral staircase, which staff would use to retrieve some records from above. You can see the staircase peeking out on the left side of the image.

Today, these two floors are part of the non-public archives storage onsite. While the rooms look much different, the spiral staircase still stands and is a testimony to times past.


A view of the stairs today, opposite side of the room

Internship Expectations

I am currently in my last semester as a Graduate student at Pratt Institute’s School of Information and Library Sciences program. I am also pursuing an Advanced Certificate in Museum Librarianship. I think each time I think about this being my last semester I get a little sad. I’m incredibly happy that I will be completing my last semester; but I would like a little more time to just learn more. Being in my last semester, everyone told me to take it easy and not to take on too many activities. To me, this idea is a difficult one to grasp. I always enjoy doing numerous activities to try to expose myself to as many different areas of the field as possible. I have a love for museums and history. Simply thinking of museums puts a smile on my face. I’ve always had an interest in archives, the problem was I never had any experience and I was scared I’d walk in and mess something up. I guess to put it bluntly, I definitely “geek out” when I get to see really old books, maps, pictures, pamphlets etc… In undergrad, I studied Comparative Humanities. I thoroughly enjoyed comparing various cultures, religions, lands and seeing how they’re different and similar. Although I may not know a lot about the details of this project, I’m excited to learn about it. I believe all history has some sort of significance, we may not have to say why, but we should respect it all and know that it can help someone. Knowing that I may be able to do something to help someone in their research is a truly amazing feeling.

As Brigette was giving me a tour of the library, she mentioned how the building isn’t ideal for the projects but they are making it work. I think they’re doing a great job with the space and limitations that they’ve been given. When we got to the room full of archives, it was amazing to be in a room where the manuscripts were studied, or even created, and now we are here today to try to get them back in order so they can be used again. The fact that these manuscripts are being used actively is fascinating to me. Often times you hear of libraries that have all these amazing material, but sometimes no one knows about them or they’re not very willing to share the wealth of knowledge. I was a bit overwhelmed when I saw all the boxes. But Brigette showed how much progress has been done in just a year and a half and to me that’s reassuring that I can do something to help. It’s inspiring to see that Brigette is helping this project move along so well. With this new fascination with archives, I feel that many places start an archiving project and dive in without a proper action plan. My classmate Bree Midavaine told me about her Internship at the Burke. She told me how her supervisor gives her readings, support and a clear idea of what to do and teaches her. This really intrigued me so I decided to try my best to try to get an internship here at the Burke to learn more about archiving and lucky for me, I got it!

The main part of my internship here is to be able to learn how to work in an archive. How to get through all those boxes, organize them, and safely store them for researchers to be able to use. Learn about the little details like how to watch after them, what steps to take to try to prevent future problems, how to protect the archive after you just spent all this time restoring and organizing them all. I’m hoping I’ll be able to complete at least one project from start to finish. As I sit here trying to collect all my thoughts and expectations for the semester, I’m actually just thinking about the room full of all the manuscripts and thinking, "hm how does it all get done?" It’s time now to dive into the readings and to learn as much as I can about archiving! I’m looking forward to working with the staff here and to learn as much as I can with Brigette.