Another semester is coming to an end at Swem Library’s Special Collections and student employees are getting ready for the hustle of the last few weeks of classes. It is my last semester working at Special Collections, and the year I have spent as a graduate apprentice here has gone by in the blink of an eye. This semester has looked very different from my first semester here. Previously, I was examining artifacts and documents before cataloging them into Special Collections' Education Collection. I was also helping Special Collections staff install exhibits. While I have continued to work on cataloging and helping staff, I have also been tasked to make a few exhibits of my own.
My first exhibit entitled, "Lost and Found" looks at items that have either gone missing or were stolen during William & Mary's storied history and were eventually found or returned. I was able to tell the story of a few well-known books like Paolo Sarpi’s History of the Council of Trent, which was the only book to survive the 1705 fire. Another book, The History of Granada by Washington Irving, went through numerous hands and survived the fighting of the Civil War before it was returned many years later. I also documented personal items from students that had been taken, the story of how the College Mace was burgled just before graduation, and the kidnapping of the College’s beloved mascot, Wampo, by pranksters at the University of Richmond.
My upcoming exhibit on coverage of the College's athletics programs in student publications will be at William & Mary Hall in August. I have been delving into the publication archives and card catalog at Swem the last few weeks in an attempt to compile a varied collection of articles highlighting different W&M sports teams. After reading more (The)Flat Hat articles than I thought was humanly possible, I started checking out a number of other student publications. The Colonial Echo, the College's yearbook, has been a treasure trove of information and images on teams dating all the way back to the start of the twentieth century. The Dog Street Journal, which began in 2003, has done a great job analyzing William & Mary sports achievements, and the Virginia Informer has a few athletic related articles as well.
In just my second semester here at Swem Special Collections, I have learned an enormous amount about working at a university library. I have seen many library procedures in action—everything from pulling a colossal amount of books for an incoming class to the painstakingly meticulous art of transcribing documents. Special Collections gives students a unique experience that cannot be found at just any library. The combination of an extremely welcoming staff with a collection that includes rare books, one-of-a-kind documents, and artifacts, made working here something worth cherishing.
James Tolj is a graduate student in the Department of History and a 2012-2013 Archives Apprentice in the Special Collections Research Center, Swem Library.