Beinecke, Zines, Alumni & More: Fall 2019 in Review

Pratt students outside Beinecke library
Pratt SI students at the Beinecke library

Before we head into 2020 and begin planning a new lineup of events for the spring semester, we’d like to reflect on what a spectacular fall semester it was — all thanks to an engaged group of returning students, and an incoming group of equally enthusiastic ones. Here’s a look at some of the events we shared with our Pratt community.

Yale’s Beinecke Library Trip

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In October, we hopped on a train to Connecticut to enjoy autumnal colors and go behind the scenes at the Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library at Yale University. Visiting in person is the best way to experience this weirdly magnificent building, with translucent marble that allows just a little light to shine through. The exhibition hall is open to the public — so you, too, can see their copies of Audubon’s Birds of America and the Gutenberg Bible (whose pages, contrary to popular legend, are not turned often for an undergraduate to read the whole thing during their time at Yale) — and the reading room is accessible to registered researchers.

But we were fortunate to meet with several librarians and archivists who showed us around beyond the public areas. The Beinecke is known for a number of collecting areas, but is particularly strong in American literature, and we saw examples of books (multiple copies of Peter Pan) and heard fascinating stories about the challenges of collecting materials from living authors (one of whom’s includes correspondence in which they wrote something along the lines of, “I would tell you, except this letter is going to end up at Yale”). These librarians and archivists (including a Pratt alum) were incredibly generous with their time and insights, about the Beinecke and about their work and about librarianship in general, and we are so thankful to them all.

And yes, we also had some delicious New Haven pizza.

Alumni Talks

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This semester, we launched a monthly series to highlight the work of Pratt School of Information graduates, while providing current students a chance to hear about professional paths and make connections with librarians in the area. We heard about opportunities to provide volunteer reference services to the incarcerated via NYPL, learned about the surprising instructional aspects of librarianship in a corporate library and archives, and found out what it takes to build engaging comics programming. Again, we can’t thank Emily, Deimosa, and Leigh enough for sharing their time and expertise with us.

Tours: Explorers Club & AMNH

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Being in New York City provides us with access to an incredible range of libraries, archives, and museums, and we were able to visit two fascinating ones this semester.

First, we explored the 114-year-old Explorers Club and its library and archives, which include books, maps, and films about travel and exploration. Retired club flags that club members brought on expeditions line one room, including flags that have been to space and on deep-sea missions. We also heard a great example of the unexpected skills you pick up outside of school: the Archivist and Curator of Research Collections has three taxidermists’ numbers on file in case of a conservation emergency.

Paintings hanging on a wall in the stairwell at the Explorers Club were sketches for the backdrops of the magnificent dioramas at the American Museum of Natural History, where we enjoyed another tour. Show a group of library science students some cool visualizations made using metadata, a 1558 encyclopedia about sea creatures, and a page from Darwin’s notebook, and you’ll really be playing to your audience.

Zine Workshop

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Finally, we hosted a hands-on session led by alum Emma Karin Eriksson, who shared some of the best practices she’s learned for leading zine workshops for kids, teens, and undergrads. Scheduled during the end of the semester, we enjoyed a fair amount of therapeutic cutting and pasting, which was a welcome break from final projects.

We’ve got some equally engaging events in the works for the spring 2020 semester, but we always welcome your ideas. Feel free to email us at silssa.pratt@gmail.com, and follow us on Twitter and Instagram for announcements about events throughout the year.

Thanks to everyone who joined us at these events, as well as at our meetings, student group happy hours, and school-wide events. And the greatest thanks go out to all the professional librarians, archivists, curators, and more who provided time and valuable insights to help us make these events happen.

–Mary Bakija, PALA President

Library of Congress, Bookbinding & More: Spring 2019 in Review

Introducing PALA to prospective students in March.

From a trip to D.C. to hands-on workshops and behind-the-scenes tours, we had an eventful spring semester! Here’s a look at some of the events we shared with the Pratt community.

Washington, D.C. Trip

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The highlight of our semester took place in April, when we hopped on a bus with a group of students for a whirlwind visit to Washington, D.C. — there and back in one day! After a general introduction to the Library of Congress with a tour of its Thomas Jefferson Building, our generous host Muzhgan Nazarova led us to several corners of both the Jefferson and the James Madison Memorial Buildings.

In the Manuscripts Division, we learned a bit about the joys and challenges of reference, particularly when it comes to housing the papers of many Supreme Court Justices (“They always seem to pass away on a weekend,” said Manuscript Reference Librarian Patrick Kerwin, “so we’re very busy on Monday morning!”). We saw that the Performing Arts Reading Room, like much of the Library of Congress, still relies in part on card catalogs. This is the access point for the the Music Division’s collections, which famously includes five Stradivari stringed instruments (and perhaps more interestingly, it also includes around 2,000 flutes, given to LC, some say, as a move to out-donate the Stradivari donor). Finally, Nazarova provided an overview of what she and her colleagues accomplish in the Asian & Middle Eastern Division. Shelves of books in languages of the region line the walls of the office, waiting to be cataloged by librarians who seem to speak at least four languages, but often many more.

We also registered for and received Reader Identification Cards, so we look forward to opportunities to return to the Library to do some research. Having seen first-hand the dedication and enthusiasm of the librarians we met, we really can’t wait to go back.

Bookbinding Workshop

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During a fun workshop in March, we received instruction and hands-on practice in bookbinding at the Center for Book Arts. Since we’re training to work with them full-time, it makes sense to understand the mechanics of books. Plus, a little deep concentration with a needle and thread certainly helped as a form of meditation at a time when we were well into the intensity of mid-semester classwork.

Professional Events

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Being in New York City has a million perks, but for a group of library science students the best thing might be the incredible number of libraries, archives, and events relating to the field. To help students get a better sense of career opportunities and to make some professional connections, we organized tours of two libraries and gathered a group of students to attend a local discussion on reference librarianship.

Descending through the stacks of the New York Public Library’s Stephen A. Schwarzman building, Michelle Misner led us to the library’s labyrinthine underground areas located below Bryant Park during a tour in February. She shared a lot of information people probably don’t get during the public tours, like how they employ multiple classification systems, including Dewey, LC, fixed order, and the Billings system.

We learned about an interesting classification system at another beautiful Manhattan library when we visited the Grolier Club in April. Meghan Constantinou, a Pratt alum and the librarian of the 135-year-old bibliophile club, provided a tour, pulled some of her favorite items from the collection for us to see, and shared some of the Club’s history — which includes the creation of a unique classification system.

Finally, during the Reference Librarianship & Justice: Critical Interventions event at METRO in March, students heard from an impressive group of librarians who spoke on panels and gave presentations discussing issues around the critical dimensions of reference services. Everyone was incredibly inspirational, and it left us wondering: How can we better connect LIS students to underserved NYC library communities? What needs can we fill, and what sustainable projects can we create or help empower?

We hope you’ll help us come up with ideas to help answer those questions and more during the 2019-2020 school year. As always, feel free to email us at silssa.pratt@gmail.com, and follow us on Twitter and Instagram for announcements about events throughout the year.

Thanks to everyone who joined us at these events, as well as at our meetings, student group happy hours, and school-wide events. Thanks to the generous support of the Pratt Graduate Student Engagement Fund. And finally, extra-big-time thanks to all the people who provided time and valuable insights to help us make these events happen!

–Mary Bakija, PALA President