Dispatches from the Lunchroom – and Other Discoveries at the Library Company

I know that “Lunch” was never considered an appropriate answer to the common elementary school question “What’s your favorite class?”  But I have to admit that the lunchroom is one of my favorite spots at the Library Company of Philadelphia!

Why?  The lunchroom is actually located in the beautiful Cassatt House, the building connected to LCP where many of its steady stream of scholars stay for a few weeks or a few months.  (See the description here to read about the building’s impressive Philadelphia pedigree!)  I love lunch not just for the break, but because I get to take part in or listen in on fascinating discussions with some of these scholars and members of the LCP staff.  Because LCP’s collections span the 17th to 19th centuries, people come to research all kinds of different topics.  Many of the fellows and other researchers I’ve met so far have focuses in literature, history, history of medicine, and economics.  But lunchtime chats can range from discussions of the best edition of The Wasteland to the slightly sillier stories of two scholars’ past experiences as movie extras.  (The academic’s version of “But what I really want to do is direct”?)

A few weeks ago a recently-arrived researcher asked about the academic and career backgrounds of the many people who work at LCP.  With the only actual staff member deeply engrossed in her reading (Another favorite lunchtime activity, of course!), the answering fell to me.  And while I couldn’t answer the question in full, I did share that one of the coolest parts of my internship so far is learning about the diverse specialties and interests of the people I’ve met and worked with.  I spent the first few weeks of the summer on the first floor, where the reference librarians keep everything running smoothly in the often-crowded reading room – all while writing, blogging, researching, paging books, assisting scholars in their research, answering the questions of first-time visitors …  And when I moved upstairs to work in the digitization room, I learned that there is also a constant buzz of activity going on on the second floor, from book-binding to event-coordinating.  There are also tons of other visitors, volunteers, and interns in and out throughout the summer, each working on their own project.  Mine is adding to LCP’s extensive collections on ImPAC, its database of online images available to anyone, anywhere!  I work with the collection of 19th-century American Sunday-School Union woodblocks.  This means describing and researching the image, scanning, measuring, entering data about each block, and occasionally finding the associated print in a newspaper or book.  The most exciting part of working with the woodblocks is discovering the places they were used, and a story to explain the sometimes mystifying scene.

More on the actual woodblocks soon, I promise!  As I said, sometimes figuring out how to date or describe a woodblock is more of a puzzle than anything else, and I’m excited to scan and share the last image I was working with, which is absolutely baffling so far…


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