A Summer Spent at Gage's Library

Sarah LawlerSyracuse University students receive hundreds of emails about internships they may want to apply for. I generally find a handful or so that I’m interested in, but this spring, one request for applications stood out. It explained that the Matilda Joslyn Gage Center was “developing a small research library in the upstairs room in the restored Gage home in Fayetteville where Gage’s original library was housed.” As a student working toward a Master’s in Library and Information Science, I was immediately intrigued. Most internships allow you to learn how to manage an established collection. Very few offer the chance to develop a library nearly from scratch. Valuable experience such as this is rarely found elsewhere. I was also encouraged by many positive things said about the Gage Foundation during my work experience at the Fayetteville Free Library.

Kelly Nolte, a junior photography major at Syracuse University, was interested as well. We were the interns given the task of turning the roomful of donated books into a research library for scholars, children in grade school, and every type of user in between. We knew we would be removing books, adding books to the collection, and determining how to preserve the books that had survived from Gage’s original collection. They were in desperate need of some TLC.

Kelly took charge on the preservation of the fragile first editions by figuring out the best way to preserve them, and then making it happen, so they would be available for future generations to use. After we both worked to clarify the scope of the library to include materials on Gage and her feminist contemporaries, I weeded out the books that did not fit the scope of the Center’s mission and grouped the remaining titles into categories for easy browsing. We then worked to catalog the books in a way that would make them easy for visitors to access.

While all this went smoothly, we experienced plenty of unanticipated challenges as well. As we began to develop our vision of what the library should become, we realized it would be essential to connect the new research library to the rest of the Gage Center. Several failed ideas led us to look around the established rooms in the Gage Center and we recognized part of what makes them interactive and welcoming are the quotes, questions, and facts on the walls. We realized that if we could continue that sense of interactivity upstairs in the research library, we would be on our way to creating a cohesive space and a more powerful experience for visitors. With that attitude we approached the task of creating signage to be displayed in the research library. While still a work in progress, we handpicked quotes and used language that encourages participation, in order to encourage visitors to pick up a book,. One sign reads, “Did you know that in 1893, Matilda Joslyn Gage penned, Woman, Church and State. Here are some texts that helped inspire her writing…” We wanted visitors to feel comfortable exploring the space.

While the research library is far from complete, we feel that it is well on its way. We hope that when it opens to the public, every one of you will find something that answers a question and probes new curiosity.

Sarah Lawler

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