Monthly Archives: March 2014

An unexpected journey

I am through the first month of my internship at Burke, but time has passed so fast that it sometimes feels like I have just arrived. I still have a lot to learn, and the thrill of being in an unknown city is still there!

My Library School (ENSSIB, France) gives us the opportunity to do our final internship in foreign libraries. While some students prefer to stay in France, going away seemed a really good way to learn more, both personally and professionally – developing new skills, discovering another country. That’s why I applied at Columbia University Libraries, hoping to get the chance to work on a digitization project.

A few months later, I found myself standing , a bit jet lagged, in front of a huge Neo Gothic tower covered in snow, and wondering if Hogwarts had moved its location from Scotland to Manhattan.

I didn’t expect to be offered a place in a Theology Library. Still, it made sense to me: my master’s thesis was, after all, about church history. It also seemed like a chance to discover a view of religion and spirituality very different from what I had experienced in France. What was more unexpected was the archival nature of my work. But while I never had the opportunity to work in an archive, it was still a familiar territory: during my bachelor in History, my teachers always insisted on the importance of documents and sources. During my master's, I had some courses about archives– and I experienced several times archives as a reader. What got me into Library Science in the first place was my desire to be the link between past documents and present readers, which is why I did several internships in libraries with rare book and manuscript collections. For all these reasons, I am glad to be able to get a first-hand experience in archives, on a project that will help me developing skills that are useful in libraries as well.

In this perspective, being at a place like Burke makes sense: it is familiar in many ways, but also completely new. I am learning a lot working with Ruth and I really enjoy my work with the Harrison Elliot papers, which I will tell more about in another note.

St. Leander

There are several obvious candidates for "patron saint" of the Burke Library, and one of them would certainly be Leander van Ess (1772-1847). Van Ess, erstwhile Benedictine and translator of an immensely popular German New Testament, amassed what would become the Library's first, core collection. Edward T. Robinson, a member of Union Theological Seminary's founding faculty, arranged for the purchase in 1838 of a portion of Van Ess's collection, including scores of medieval and early modern manuscripts, as well as thousands of early printed books and Reformation-era pamphlets (flugschriften). The Van Ess Collection remains a tremendously rich resource for the study of the material culture of the West, and of book history in particular. Among the collection's strengths are its many well-preserved contemporary bindings. The collection bearing his name, which is the result of Van Ess's life and work as a scholar and teacher, is the proverbial "cornerstone" of the Burke Library's renowned holdings. The above portrait includes the Johannine exhortation to scrutamini scripturas (5:39). In Van Ess's hand is inscribed a brief passage from 1 John 4:16: "God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him."