Upon receiving work-study as a second semester, first year M.A. student in April, I had no idea that working at the Burke Library would not only be a learning opportunity, but also an adventure. Although I’ve had prior experience working at my hometown’s library in high school, little did I know that being a part of this specific community would change the way I look at how much work goes into maintaining and improving the books and documents that have been entrusted to Burke.
I take much pride in the fact that I gained the privilege to work in my Seminary’s library. Not only does it hold one of the largest collections of theological and contextually related areas of research in North America, but the staff members may be some of the most helpful and inspiring people you could work with. After doing some work as an administrative assistant, to now working at the circulation desk, I have encountered an exciting (and sometimes erratic!) range of people. There are patrons who have started conversations with me on topics such as their work in non-profits or traveling across the world for causes such as HIV/AIDS prevention; and on the other hand, I’ve seen patrons unsuccessfully attempt to sneak all types of food into Burke, power walk laps around the second floor, and display many other peculiar types of behavior, but thankfully, these are the types of experiences that make it all worthwhile.
Aside from the comical experiences I’ve had working at the circulation desk, I must say that my experience in archives working with Brigette and Ruth since May has been one of theological enrichment, intrigue, and endless knowledge. I was astonished to see with my own eyes, and touch with my own hands the revolutionary history that Union Theological Seminary has taken part of since its early history and into the present time. From renowned scholars, activists, missionaries, church leaders, and committees, the archives contained in Burke’s catalog are so mind-blowing that it would take years to discover every bit of its caliber. As I worked with Brigette and her interns on processing and organizing the Missionary Research Library collection, I came across many documents that challenged my beliefs and views, but the fact that I got to see first-hand letters, photographs, pamphlets, and journal entries sparked a peculiar flame in me. How exciting it is to see specific individuals or groups of people that have created history which has directly influenced our work today. Yet, the interesting thing about history is that the people who usually make it have no idea that their life and works were history in the making. There were organizations, preachers, and educators who I would have never heard of if it were not for my work on the fourth and fifth floor of Burke.
The passion and love that each member of the Burke staff possesses is highly evident. It is commendable that while sorting through collections for Ruth and Brigette, they are able to not only guide and instruct me through what I am assigned to do, but the breadth of background knowledge they provide is remarkable. I am able to put what I am working on into context and luckily many of the people and cultures I have learned about happen to intersect with the subjects I am studying for my classes. It is also encouraging to know that the findings within certain collections that have not been uncovered for decades (due to many causes such as water damage, controversial findings, etc.) are not completely tossed into obscurity or carelessly thrown away. Many rediscovered documents and reports are necessary for scholarship today and it says a lot about the value of a theological education. I look forward to finishing my last year as a seminary graduate student under the care of the Burke library community and its caring staff!