Take Bwog to Work Day: The Rare Books and Manuscripts Library
Written by Bwog Staff
In our new feature, Bwog goes behind the scenes, discovering the hidden joys of working at or around Columbia University. In our first exploration of pretend real life, Senior Labor Correspondent Katheryn Thayer followed Jordan Lord in his sweet setup at the Rare Book and Manuscript Library (Take Bwog to Work Day was actually on Thursday.) Like show-and-tell? Got a cool job? Tell us about it at [email protected]
So much of enjoying Columbia is finding your niche, and Jordan Lord has done just that. His background experience working with an editor and film archivist at online magazine Triple Canopy sparked interest in archiving, so when a friend mentioned an opening at the Rare Books and Manuscripts Library, he jumped at the opportunity. At his post, he gets to sift through donated material that is often relevant to his area of interest—Film Studies and English—retrieve rare documents for researchers, and become acquainted with an impressive and little-known resource here at Columbia.
On Thursdays (from 9-5, the real deal!) Jordan hangs out on the little-traveled sixth floor of Butler, where the Rare Books and Manuscripts Library is tucked away at the end of a long corridor of sparsely-populated reading rooms. Though he sees on average one or two History majors a day, this section of the library is mostly utilized by professors and researchers. The library’s collection contains a host of exotic, unique, and mighty interesting documents, folios, books, and other important things. It encompasses a vast range of smaller special collections, such as documents pertaining to individuals from Joan of Arc to Winston Churchill. Currently, 4 of Tennessee Williams’ typewriters are on display. (You can read a fascinating history of the origins and growth of the collection here.)
Jordan’s main task is retrieving requested material, which is housed in a “private stacks” full of books and documents too valuable to allow the general public to access. After receiving a slip indicating which source is desired (anyone with access to the library can request books and manuscripts), he darts off into the stacks to hunt down correspondences of Andy Warhol, oral histories of silent film stars, or collections of Bomb magazine. Some requests are easier than others; the material can get hefty. Jordan remarks, “I feel like a manual laborer!”, but also admits he knew what he was getting into when his interviewer for the job asked him whether he could carry 30 pounds.
Though he sometimes wishes he were learning more about the archival process, which he describes as “mystifying” and says is mostly carried out by library sciences graduate student interns, he does recognize his amazing opportunity to “interact with really incredible material.” Through his work with the library, Jordan sees that he has become more knowledgeable about the resources Columbia students have at their disposal. When he’s not darting in and out of the stacks, his time is mostly spent sorting through and organizing donated materials. His most recent work has been with the Maysles (renowned documentary-making brothers) and Sarris (film critic and theorist) film collections. Such work sometimes affords unexpected finds. Jordan’s discoveries range from negatives of a favorite film, tax return paperwork, and a girdle.